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Farm and Conservation Grant (Variation) Scheme 1996

1.2 p.m.

Lord Lucas rose to move, That the scheme laid before the House on 12th February be approved [9th Report from the Joint Committee].

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move that the Farm and Conservation Grant (Variation) Scheme 1996, laid before the House on 12th February be

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approved and on this St. David's Day I wish all noble Lords Dydd Gwyl Dewi Llawen, in my slowly improving Welsh.

The purpose of the scheme is to extend for a further period of two years those elements of the Farm and Conservation Grant Scheme 1989 which remain extant. Various elements of the 1989 scheme have been withdrawn over the intervening years. There now remain the provision, replacement or improvement of shelter belts for shading stock, the enclosure of grazed woodland to encourage regrowth and the renovation of traditional boundaries such as hedges and stone walls. There are also grants for the provision of stiles, gates and waymarkings for public access and opportunities for the control of bracken and heather. And finally, there are grants for the repair and renovation of traditional agricultural buildings using materials which are traditional to the locality. Grants are available at rates varying between 15 per cent. to 40 per cent., depending upon whether activity takes place on land designated as either outside a less favoured area or inside a less favoured area.

Extending the Farm and Conservation Grant Scheme in Wales will also allow other schemes which in part use this legislation to continue until other arrangements may be brought into place. These include capital grants for fencing under the water fringe, coastal belt and broadleaved woodland elements of the habitat scheme and the countryside access scheme. Similarly, provisions for bracken control and fencing can be applied under the moorland scheme. Also the Countryside Council for Wales uses this legislation for the hedgerow renovation scheme where that operates outside the three pilot Tir Cymen areas.

The Welsh Office will in the course of 1996 review the overall provision of its various grant schemes to ensure their cohesive delivery and value for money. This is expected to result in proposals for the integration of remaining grants available under the farm and conservation grant scheme with other suitable mechanisms. I commend the scheme to the House.

Moved, That the scheme laid before the House on 12th February be approved [9th Report from the Joint Committee].--(Lord Lucas.)

Lord Prys-Davies: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, for introducing this modest but useful scheme. I thank him too for evidence of his growing mastery of the Welsh language.

The Minister has explained the purpose of the scheme and my noble friend Lord Carter assures me that I can welcome it. Indeed, my noble friend tells me that it has been desperately slow in coming. I have only two questions to ask the Minister. First, there is anxiety that the scheme appears to disallow all claims for a grant in respect of effluent disposal if they are received after 19th February 1996. Is that correct? Can the Minister

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confirm whether a scheme which commenced before 19th February 1996 but was not completed by that date will be eligible for a grant?

My second question looks ahead to 1998 when the 1989 scheme will end. Is it intended that capital grants for the planting of hedges and the repair of stone walls and traditional agricultural buildings in Wales will be available in some form or other after February 1998, possibly within an integrated scheme, as I believe may be the position in England and Scotland? If that is so, can the Minister assure the Welsh farmers that their proposal will be subject to the fullest consultation? With those two questions, I am pleased to support the scheme.

Lord Beaumont of Whitley: My Lords, I too thank the Minister for having introduced the scheme. The reprieve for Wales is most welcome, even though it has come at the last moment. I wish to join the noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, in the two questions that he has asked, in particular since farmers who started work on projects for effluent disposal facilities may have had their work interrupted by the adverse weather conditions. It would be sad if they were unable to take advantage of the scheme.

The noble Lord asked about the important maintenance work on valuable environmental features such as hedges and stone walls. I welcome that work, but there appear to be fears that there may be onerous and restrictive conditions on future work. I would like an assurance that the Government will keep a continuing watch to ensure that nothing happens to stop the welcome return of encouragement to retain these important parts of the environment, the countryside and the farming community.

Lord Lucas: My Lords, I am grateful to both the noble Lords, Lord Prys-Davies and Lord Beaumont of Whitley, for their support for the scheme.

I shall reply briefly to the questions which they raised. In relation to the grant for effluent disposal, the expenditure eligible under the grant must have been incurred before 30th November 1994. The date of 19th February 1996 is only the date by which the claim must have been made. We feel that a reasonable time has passed and the time in which the claims had to be made has been well publicised. Since the expenditure had to take place in 1994, the recent bad weather will, if anything, have given the farmers an opportunity to sit inside and fill in their claims, so, in fact, that may have hurried things on a bit.

I do not wish to anticipate our plans for the future other than to say that, since we are continuing the scheme, we maintain a strong commitment to the projects which we are supporting under the scheme. When our proposals are ready, we shall consult fully on them with farmers and all other bodies with interests in the countryside. I commend the Motion.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

        House adjourned at ten minutes past one o'clock.

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