Orders of the Day — Set-aside (Scotland)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 10:20 pm on 24th November 1993.

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Photo of Mr Archy Kirkwood Mr Archy Kirkwood Liberal Democrat Chief Whip 10:20 pm, 24th November 1993

I do indeed. That point has also been made to me by my right hon. Friends the Members for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale (Sir D. Steel) and for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith): a real head of steam is building up, and if the Government do not recognise that, they will get their just desserts in the form of retribution later on.

Early press reports suggest that the Secretary of State believes that the industry is already receiving large sums of taxpayers' money. That is to ignore the tiny profit margins and negligible returns on capital earned by most farm businesses in the arable sector. It also ignores the fact that the rural economy depends on a viable farming industry for survival. It further ignores the fact that there are ramifications for processors, who will in future be forced to buy grain and proteins from other countries.

In any case, it is not so much a question of money; it is more a question of simple justice. There is a great deal at stake. There is a growing perception that Scottish Ministers are simply not willing to fight for Scottish farmers. As the Minister will know, a precedent has already been set in Germany, where an admittedly smaller overshoot has already been accommodated without penalty, and most other EC countries have not even submitted preliminary returns and may be quietly cooking the books to their own advantage.

Neither the industry nor I suggest that anything underhand should be done but I want to put two questions squarely to the Minister and I hope that he will have the chance to answer them this evening. First, will he review the validity of the census data from which the base area was calculated? Secondly, will he agree to make urgent approaches to the Commission to explore ways of getting around the effects of this penalty?

In conclusion, I firmly believe that, with significant political will, a way around the problem can be found. I hope that the Minister will give the House an assurance and a clear undertaking that he will use his best endeavours to sort out the mess quickly.