In the cereals sector, the Government are actively considering ideas for a Communitywide voluntary set-aside scheme. The Government are also studying the Commission's proposals for set-aside in its socio-structural package.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that at a time when we are seeking to tackle surpluses, the advantage of set-aside schemes is that they enable us much more accurately to determine which land shall be taken out of production, and thus ensure a fairly comprehensive countryside policy in any one area? When does my right hon. Friend expect that his Ministry will be coming to conclusions on both his and the Community's schemes, which are under discussion?
I believe that my hon. Friend is right in his analysis. We are working on the criteria that the scheme should be voluntary, Communitywide and cost effective, and should provide an alternative for those producers who are least able to cope with a restrictive price policy. We are anxious to start discussions as soon as possible.
Would not a set-aside policy be more easily achieved if we had a parallel farm woodlands policy? Does the Minister agree, on the question of surplus cereal production, that it is estimated that about 14 to 15 per cent. of cereal land in Britain will have to be taken out of production?
I would not accept those figures, because much depends on the degree to which the Community is successful in bringing the production of food closer to the level of consumption. We must consider, in respect of the scheme, the overall problem of land use, including the potential of a greater incidence of the growing of trees.
Will my right hon. Friend take this opportunity again to clarify his position on the control of cereal surpluses? Does he still believe that price control is the best and only practical way to control production, or is he seriously considering alternative and additional methods?
I know that my hon. Friend has heard me say on a number of occasion how I believe we should deal with the current surplus in cereals. I remind him of the Commission's estimate that if we do nothing we could find ourselves with 80 million tonnes of surplus grain in the Community by 1991. My view is that a package of measures is necessary. It would not be practical politics to deal with the matter with one device alone, such as price control. We must use the devices of price, set-aside and intervention standards. I have been saying this in the House for about six or nine months. I believe that price must be at the forefront of the package.
Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that while set-aside has its definite advantages, we do not want that to prolong the excessive use of fertilisers, which run off into rivers and into the public water supply from the land that is not set aside? In other words, we want to achieve a situation in which we do not get maximum production from the acreage that is not set aside.
My hon. Friend did not use the word nitrates, but I suspect that he had it in mind. We are conscious of the dangers of the excessive use of nitrogen in encouraging plant growth. For that reason we are carrying out a careful study of the problem. I hope that we will be able to see the conclusions of that before very long. We should be careful about introducing steps to prevent the use of methods of producing high yields which hold back farmers within the Community, whereas their competitors in the rest of the world are free to use every device which leads to greater efficiency. That would be a dangerous step.