As has already been explained in the reply given to the hon. Member for Howden (Sir P. Bryan) on 1st July, a conclusion on this recommendation in the Layfield Committee's Report will not be reached until after the end of the consultation period announced by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment.
It would obviously depend on the rate at which it was rated —[Interruption.] This is a serious point. The effect would depend on the level at which the rate was fixed per acre of agricultural land. However, the hon. Gentle-main raises a valid question. Obviously such rating would have implications regarding agricultural costs.
Will the hon. Gentleman confirm that the Layfield Committee based its conclusions entirely on rating grounds and principles and took no account of the effect on food prices, home agricultural production, or investment in farming? Are those matters not his responsibility, and should he not now make his position clear?
Obviously these are important matters, and are of concern to this Ministry. We are now entering into a period of consultation. All interested parties have been invited to put forward their views. It would be quite wrong for this Ministry, or any other, to pre-empt this consultation process.
Does my hon. Friend realise that farming land includes grouse moors? Is he aware that next month there will be advertisements offering a week's grouse shooting for £600? Why should land that is being used for profit in that manner be excluded from rating when every other industry and private person in the country pays rates?
My right hon. Friend has raised a fair point, to the extent that the actual rates paid by the estates are very small in relation to the sort of figures that he has quoted.
Would not the hon. Gentleman be doing his job better if he were to make an unequivocal statement here and now that productive land should not be rated? If he did so he would increase the confidence of farmers for the future. Will he do that now?
I have already explained the position. I hope that even Opposition Members will acknowledge that there is now great confidence in the agriculture industry. I am talking about the longterm prospects. Obviously the drought is a serious but temporary matter. The position of the milk-producing sector and other important sectors of the agriculture industry has not been better for a very long time.