The Council of Ministers has recently adopted a measure requiring member states to introduce extensification schemes providing incentives for farmers to reduce output of surplus agricultural products. We shall not be able to determine how extensification should be applied in the United Kingdom until detailed Commission rules have been established.
Although I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for that answer, does he agree that there is much to be said for a regime in farming as an option that encourages farmers to put less in and extract less from their land? That would solve the problem of excess application of nitrates and the many other problems that are associated with intensive farming.
My hon. Friend makes a good point. The extensification schemes may play an important role. However, the problems of policing and the difficulties of ensuring that money from the taxpayer is not given to people who continue to over produce are very serious. I hope my hon. Friend will accept that it will take a little time to overcome those difficulties.
Does the Minister agree that the Government must be careful before introducing such a scheme? Last year many hon. Members on both sides of the House suggested that we should have quotas for beef production. The Minister will be aware that there is now a shortage of beef in Britain and in other countries.
The hon. Gentleman, with his great knowledge of farming, underlines the problem that it is impossible to know from one year to the next what beef production will be. We know that there is a major underlying trend of increasing yields in the production of livestock. We also know that all sorts of international complications can change the suggested amounts for next year. The hon. Gentleman will agree that an extensification scheme that might allow people to farm less intensively—where that seems sensible—would be helpful, if we could find one that worked.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that we made a good start in this respect by introducing ESAs under the Agriculture Act 1986? Should we not press ahead with more such schemes as fast as we reasonably can?
It is a very good start, but these are experimental areas. Each of them has peculiarities. We are trying to see how the system works best. When we evaluate how the ESAs have worked over the next two or three years, we shall be in a better position to make the decision that my hon. Friend would like. I remind him that just a year ago we had only half as many ESAs. We have doubled that number already, and also the amount of money that we are spending on them.
We welcome these first measures and recognise the grave problems of implementing the schemes, but are not the pollution problems, which are equally severe, likely to cause as grave problems? Will the Government give a firm commitment that they will do more to tackle the problems of pollution in rural areas?
I have made it clear in recent speeches and in the actions that we have taken that we deplore pollution by the farming community. This community is taking action, and more and more people will realise how important the issue is. Last year was a difficult one for pollution because of the weather, but I do not think such incidents are justifiable, and we must get a better record.