Agricultural Holdings (Rates)

Oral Answers to Questions — Agriculture, Fisheries and Food – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 19th February 1987.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Nicholas Soames Nicholas Soames , Crawley 12:00 am, 19th February 1987

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what assessment he has made of the impact on the net income of the average dairy farmer in the United Kingdom if rates were imposed on farm buildings and land.

Photo of John Gummer John Gummer Minister of State (Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food)

No assessment can be made of the impact of rating on specific sectors, but the value to the agriculture industry as a whole of the current derating policy is of the order of £430 million a year. Any departure from this policy would clearly have a devastating effect on the profitability of the industry in general and of the dairy sector in particular.

Photo of Nicholas Soames Nicholas Soames , Crawley

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the Conservative party, unlike all the Opposition parties and factions, has no intention of introducing the rating of agricultural land? Does my right hon. Friend agree that it would significantly raise farmers' costs and would be likely to destroy a very large number of vital jobs in the countryside?

Photo of John Gummer John Gummer Minister of State (Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food)

It would also increase the price of food. That is the policy of the official Opposition, but I cannot help my hon. Friend on alliance policy. The Liberals announced their intention to tax all land in the document "These are Liberal Policies", which was published in 1986, but I understand that in a Standing Committee yesterday the Liberal spokesman on the countryside said that he no longer believed in it, so I do not know where the Liberals stand.

Photo of Alan Beith Alan Beith Shadow Spokesperson (Treasury)

Has the right hon. Gentleman forgotton that it was from the Conservative Benches that on 21 May 1985 the hon. Member for Southend, East (Mr. Taylor) introduced a Bill to rate agricultural land and that he and his Minister had to follow Liberal Members into the Lobby to defeat that attempt to rate agricultural land? Will he take it from me that the Liberal party is not, was not and will not be—any more than the rest of the alliance—in favour of rating agricultural land? Will he stop trying to spread falsehoods and concentrate on the crisis facing the agriculture industry?

Photo of John Gummer John Gummer Minister of State (Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food)

The hon. Gentleman now tells us that the Liberals were against rating agricultural land in 1985, in favour of the taxation of agricultural land in 1986 and are now against it in 1987. Perhaps they thought that there would be an election in 1985 and that is why they have changed their ideas again this year.

Mr. Hawkins:

Can my right hon. Friend tell me how long it would take to rate agricultural land, and the likely cost of doing so?

Photo of John Gummer John Gummer Minister of State (Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food)

I cannot give details, and I do not believe that the Labour party has worked out that part of the programme. The cost would, of course, be additional to the large sums that the Labour party is proposing should be spent out of taxation. That may be why the Liberal party turned to a straight taxation system rather than a rating system.

Photo of Mr Eric Deakins Mr Eric Deakins , Walthamstow

As local authority services in rural areas contribute to the prosperity of agriculture and those who work in it, what would be the impact if those services were not available?

Photo of John Gummer John Gummer Minister of State (Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food)

The hon. Gentleman is perfectly right. Those services help the agricultural community, and that is why we do not believe that it would be sensible for the cost of those services to be placed on the cost of food. Indeed, the Labour party supported us in our decision not to put VAT on the cost of food.

Photo of Mr Paul Marland Mr Paul Marland , Gloucestershire West

Is my right hon. Friend aware that Gloucestershire county council, under alliance control, has passed a resolution to rate agricultural land and buildings and that the decision was welcomed with relish by David Halford, the alliance leader of that council?

Photo of John Gummer John Gummer Minister of State (Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food)

My hon. Friend confuses me still further. Last year the alliance was in favour of rating or at least taxing agricultural land, but now it is against it. In Gloucestershire, however, the alliance is in favour of it, which makes it very difficult for voters to decide what are the true policies of the alliance.

Photo of Mr Brynmor John Mr Brynmor John , Pontypridd

Will the right hon. Gentleman give an assessment of the effect of the poll tax on farmers and their families?

Photo of John Gummer John Gummer Minister of State (Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food)

The community charge that is proposed for Scotland, and which we intend to introduce throughout Britain, will place a reasonable burden on people throughout the community, at exactly the same level, but it will not be levied on agricultural land. Therefore, it is uniquely different from the policy of the Opposition. I remind the hon. Gentleman that he told the NFU that he hoped to persuade his party to change its policy on rating before the election, and I can understand why.