Church Land

Oral Answers to Questions — Agriculture, Fisheries and Food – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 3rd March 1988.

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Photo of Robert Wareing Robert Wareing , Liverpool, West Derby 12:00 am, 3rd March 1988

To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food whether he will meet representatives of the Church of England to discuss the implications for rural areas of Her Majesty's Government's agricultural policy.

Photo of Harry Cohen Harry Cohen , Leyton

To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food whether he will meet representatives of the Church of England to discuss implications for rural areas of Her Majesty's Government's agricultural policy.

Photo of Robert Wareing Robert Wareing , Liverpool, West Derby

I accept that the Church of England has a genuine interest in agricultural and rural matters, but does the Minister realise that many of its members are refusing point blank to treat with him because of his savage and malevolent attacks on the clergy—including the bishops? In view of the Minister's attitude, are not the Government inhibited in their relations with the Church of England when dealing with these matters?

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

I welcome the hon. Gentleman to our agricultural debates and our discussions of ecclesiastical matters. What he said is entirely untrue and wholly contrary to what the majority of people in Britain think.

Photo of Harry Cohen Harry Cohen , Leyton

Do not Church of England representatives find it difficult to talk to the Minister because of his numerous attacks on them? He has attacked them whenever they have been in any way critical of Government policy. He attacked them for their report, "Faith in the City", and would presumably attack them if they produced a similar report entitled, "Faith in the Rural Areas". Is there not little faith in the Minister now?

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

The hon. Gentleman must accept that it is an essential and central part of Judeo-Christian civilisation that Ministers in parliamentary organizations and Governments should be concerned with religion. There has never been a division between the two areas in his Church or mine.

Photo of Mr Michael Latham Mr Michael Latham , Rutland and Melton

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that he will listen much more carefully to the views of the Church of England on agricultural issues than to any rant from the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) or other hon. Members on his private opinions about doctrine?

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

I shall do that, but I point out to my hon. Friend that, to judge from the letters I have received and the general reaction in the country, my remarks have had a ready echo among the majority of people.

Photo of Mr Michael McNair-Wilson Mr Michael McNair-Wilson , Newbury

Does my right hon. Friend agree that any suggestions he might receive from the Church about an easy or quick solution to the problems of the pig industry might appear to be rather a Gadarene reaction to a problem that could perhaps be better dealt with in a condominium of interests?

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

My hon. Friend is right. I am pleased to tell him that my right hon. and noble Friend Lord Prior has agreed to take the chair of a Church of England investigation into the way in which the Church can develop in rural areas. The Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food will be happy to help in that discussion in any way.

Photo of Dr David Clark Dr David Clark Shadow Secretary of State, Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Has the Minister, either in his ministerial or his ecclesiastical capacity, read the booklet, "The People, the Land and the Church", published by the diocese of Hereford, which shows that the result of nine years of Conservative Government is increasing poverty in rural areas, with the result that 25 per cent. of rural dwellers now live on the margin of poverty? What will he do about that?

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

I have read the book, and it does not show what the hon. Gentleman claims. I was happy to take part in a symposium in the diocese of Worcester, which discussed the nature of the book, and in which we were able to come to conclusions wholly different from those of the Labour party, which would reduce the income of farmers, because Labour Members based their arguments on an understanding of out-of-date Australian figures.

Photo of Charles Wardle Charles Wardle , Bexhill and Battle

In view of the obvious desire of Opposition Members that the Church of England should be better informed about agriculture policy, will my right hon. Friend explain to his friends in the Synod his progress on the farm woodland scheme?

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

I hope that the Church of England, like other organisations that own farmland, will be helped by the farm woodland scheme, which will enable us to provide farmers—tenants and landowners—with an opportunity to use woodlands as a crop, thereby decreasing Britain's dependence on exterior supplies of timber.