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Areas of Natural Constraint Scheme

Oral Answers to Questions — Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 3:00 pm on 7th November 2016.

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Photo of Rosemary Barton Rosemary Barton UUP 3:00 pm, 7th November 2016

4. Mrs Barton asked the Minister of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs when she will make a decision on future funding for the areas of natural constraint scheme. (AQO 584/16-21)

Photo of Simon Hamilton Simon Hamilton DUP

Minister McIlveen announced in June that she will not reduce the basic payment scheme to fund an areas of natural constraint scheme under pillar 1 of the CAP. She also announced at the time that there would not be a pillar 1 to pillar 2 transfer to fund an areas of natural constraint scheme in pillar 2 under the rural development programme. The Minister is still considering other options that might be available.

Given the pressure on the budget of both the Department and the Executive, providing any additional support will be challenging. Long-term value for money cannot be ignored, nor can the redistribution of pillar 1 moneys, which is already occurring as a result of the transition towards flat rate support in pillar 1.

Photo of Rosemary Barton Rosemary Barton UUP

As you said, Minister, the Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs Minister keeps saying that she is considering options, but that is of little comfort to our farmers and landowners who are waiting for a decision. As the Economy Minister, can you give us a decision on the funding?

Photo of Robin Newton Robin Newton Speaker

The Minister is not here to answer in his role as Economy Minister.

Photo of Simon Hamilton Simon Hamilton DUP

Thank you for that, Mr Speaker. The Member has tempted me into committing my colleague to certain things, which is a very dangerous position for a Minister to be in. I am not going to do that, as guided by the Speaker.

I understand why the Member asked the question. When I look at the data in front of me on the current area of natural constraints scheme, I see that businesses in her constituency — some 2,708 — have received support of around £5·3 million. So, I understand why the Member would ask the question and ask it in the way that she did.

The Minister is, rightly, taking her time to carefully consider the issue. She has made it clear what she is doing. As I outlined in my answer to the substantive question, there is a very good reason why she does not want to fund a scheme under pillar 1 and why she does not want to do a pillar 1 to pillar 2 transfer, namely because of the pressures that are already on pillar 1. Therefore, she is looking at other options that might be available to her.

I accept that there will be many, including many of the Member's constituents, waiting for an answer and hoping for a positive one, but I am sure that the Member will appreciate and understand, and therefore communicate to those people, that there are good and valid reasons why the Minister has not agreed to fund a scheme out of pillar 1 or to switch from pillar 1 to pillar 2.

Like all Ministers, her budget is under immense pressures elsewhere, but be assured that the Minister is taking her time to carefully consider what options might be available to her, including a bid during the upcoming Budget round.

Photo of Michelle Gildernew Michelle Gildernew Sinn Féin

In light of what the Minister has said, are he, as an Executive Minister, and the Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs Minister aware of the importance of the areas of natural constraint scheme, especially with the fear and concern that is out there in light of the EU referendum result?

Photo of Simon Hamilton Simon Hamilton DUP

The Minister is aware of the concerns that farmers in many parts of Northern Ireland have about a new scheme. That is why she has not ruled out a scheme completely; she has carefully considered it, notwithstanding the restraints and pressures that she faces on her budget. There are very valid reasons why she has decided not to take the money from elsewhere. The Minister is taking her time to look at other options. I am sure that, in due course, she will come forward with her finalised view in respect of what the future might hold.