I am satisfied that opportunities continue to exist for keen and resourceful young people wishing to enter the farming industry as farmers or as agricultural workers. Although the industry is currently facing a period of readjustment, in the longer term the prospects for those engaged in farming are good as home food production will continue to make a vital contribution to the country's economy.
Is my hon. Friend aware that her confidence in the fact that there are adequate opportunities is not fully shared by young people in the fanning sector? Does she agree that, to sustain confidence among those people, it is essential that there are first-class career opportunities? It is important to ensure that those opportunities are visibly sustained and that the Government are seen to take that fact on board. Will my hon. Friend and my right hon. Friend the Minister once again examine the European legislation to ascertain how it might be adapted to our needs to create confidence among young people who are thinking of entering the agriculture industry?
We have received a number of representations about the provisions in the new EC structures regulation relating to young farmers. We are studying these carefully and shall reach a decision in the context of the new capital grant arrangement. Legislation on those new arrangements will be presented to Parliament shortly.
I am sure the Minister will agree that we must retain our county council smallholdings if we are to help young people entering the farming community. What advice has she or the Government given to county councils which are now selling off their smallholdings?
We regard local authorities as being in the best position to judge how best to manage their estates. Unfortunately, smallholdings have not generally proved effective in providing that first rung of the ladder, largely because of the absence of further rungs and the difficulty in building up sufficient capital from a relatively small holding.
I hope that my hon. Friend will accept that in the agriculture industry we are giving the possibility of apprenticeships and what I regard as opportunities—no more and no less.
Does the Minister agree that, no matter how we do it, we must encourage an increased number of young people to go in to, and stay in, the agriculture industry? Could this not be best effected by assisting in the creation of more small tenanted farms? Has not the time come to look again at tenancies and how to encourage their creation?
One of the principal objectives of our Agricultural Holdings Act, which will be familiar to the hon. Gentleman, was to encourage landlords to create more new tenancies, but this must be given a little more time. We hope to do this by removing one of the major disincentives to letting, which is the excessive security of tenure created by the family succession provisions in the Agriculture (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1976, which was passed by a Labour Government.
Does my hon. Friend remember that recently we passed the Agricultural Holdings Act to try to put up a ladder to encourage people to take tenancies of farms? Therefore, how can it be sensible to cut away the lowest rung by allowing county councils to sell off smallholdings?
I can only reiterate to my hon. Friend that, although the use of those smallholdings as a rung has been much advertised, all the figures show that they have not proved to be effective.
Is the hon. Lady aware that the incentives to landlords, about which she has been speaking, have not achieved an increase in the number of farms to let? Following the consultations that she has just mentioned, will the Government actively support article 7 of the draft European structure directive, which is a measure which could provide a genuinely useful package to help young people set up in the farming industry?
I hope that the hon. Gentleman was listening when I said that, yes, we have had many representations on the matter, that we are looking at it in the context of the capital grant arrangements, and that legislation will go through Parliament. I hope that, as a landlord, the hon. Gentleman will set a good example by offering tenancies.