Conservation Bodies

Oral Answers to Questions — Agriculture, Fisheries and Food – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 9th May 1991.

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Photo of Mr David Nicholson Mr David Nicholson , Taunton 12:00 am, 9th May 1991

To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food how many times during the past 12 months he has met representatives of conservation bodies.

Photo of John Gummer John Gummer Secretary of State for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food

I have met representatives of conservation bodies formally on four occasions. My colleagues have also had a number of such meetings.

Photo of Mr David Nicholson Mr David Nicholson , Taunton

My right hon. Friend will know that my interest in the subject derives from the fact that my constituency ranges from the smallest English national park to the Somerset levels. Will he ensure that that land, which is not suitable for intensive and, therefore, fairly profitable farming or for conservation assistance, does not drift into a gentle decline? Will he therefore, as a matter of some urgency, bring forward proposals to ensure that all the countryside is farmed in an environmentally sensitive way?

Photo of John Gummer John Gummer Secretary of State for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food

As my hon. Friend knows, I have had many individual and informal meetings with conservation bodies and I am pleased to find that they increasingly recognise that if the British countryside is to be conserved, it can be only through the activities of farmers. That is why we are insistent that the reform of the common agricultural policy should be driven by a demand for environmental support. The Government are working for that fundamental change, which we hope to achieve.

Photo of Mr Geraint Howells Mr Geraint Howells , Ceredigion and Pembroke North

I hope that, when the Minister meets conservationists in Monmouth next week, he will remind them that Welsh farmers' incomes have dropped by 50 per cent. over the past two years and that 14 per cent. of Welsh farmers are contemplating giving up farming due to the policies of the Secretary of State for Wales, who has full responsibility for agriculture in Wales. The Minister may not be aware that his colleague said yesterday at the annual general meeting of the Farmers Union of Wales in Aberystwyth that there is worse to come. Is that policy due to the advice given by Ministers in London and by the Government?

Photo of John Gummer John Gummer Secretary of State for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food

The hon. Gentleman's question would go down better were it not known that his party was wholly in favour of the European Community and supported the common agricultural policy. He knows perfectly well that the events about which he is talking are a result of the CAP, which we are committed to changing and which we are fighting to alter. The hon. Gentleman has no possible answers to that. He should not do this and he does so only because it is this week.

Photo of Mr Cranley Onslow Mr Cranley Onslow , Woking

Will my right hon. Friend take this opportunity to emphasise the importance of conserving water resources in the countryside? Will he redouble his efforts to encourage farmers to impound the water from excessive rainfall in the winter rather than running down river levels by extraction for spray irrigation in the summer?

Photo of John Gummer John Gummer Secretary of State for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food

I agree with my right hon. Friend that the problems of water levels, especially in the east of England, are of great seriousness. Happily, even the hon. Member for Ceredigion and Pembroke, North (Mr. Howells) cannot blame the Government for that. The truth is that we shall have to share out the use of water. I was very unhappy about some of the suggestions that the National Rivers Authority put forward originally. I am pleased to say that they have now been considerably revised in a way that will protect the water table and, at the same time, enable farmers to use water as they need it to produce crops. I assure my right hon. Friend that we are looking carefully at the water levels of rivers in which I know that he has a particular interest, which he has pressed regularly to me.

Photo of Mr Tam Dalyell Mr Tam Dalyell , Linlithgow

Why cannot the Minister tell Mr. Ian Richardson and other conservationists in his constituency who is behind the Swiss bond holders who own Heveningham hall, one of the 20 most beautiful houses in England? Does he understand that, as I represent Hopetown and Dalmeny, it would be quite remiss of me as a Member not to know who owns those great houses?

Photo of John Gummer John Gummer Secretary of State for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food

The hon. Gentleman referred to a matter which is entirely under the control of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will be more careful with his comments and I also hope that he will recognise the enormous amount of work that has been carried out to save that particular house——

Photo of Mr Tam Dalyell Mr Tam Dalyell , Linlithgow

It is 20th century restoration of an 18th century house.

Photo of John Gummer John Gummer Secretary of State for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food

—and take that in the context of a long period of misuse of the house by the former owners. Who that former owner was—he is now dead—is no more clear to me than it is to the hon. Gentleman. The hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that that is a matter for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment and it would be quite improper for me to answer in any other way except to say that I do not know who the owner is.

Photo of Mr Tam Dalyell Mr Tam Dalyell , Linlithgow

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I hope to raise the matter in an Adjournment debate.

Photo of Mr Bernard Weatherill Mr Bernard Weatherill , Croydon North East

Order. It is not legitimate to raise that matter on a supplementary question.