Opposition angry at HLCA freeze
By Tony McDougal
OPPOSITION politicians will tackle the governments decision to freeze hill livestock compensatory allowances in a Commons debate on farm incomes in less favoured areas on Monday (Dec 11).
MPs who visited hill farms as part of the NFUs campaign to boost upland farmers incomes reacted with disappointment and disgust at the decision in last weeks Budget to freeze HLCAs.
The second consecutive freeze, which follows cuts in both 1992 and 1993, prompted shadow farm minister Gavin Strang to claim the Budget might have been the last chance for the government to show its commitment to hill farmers.
Peter Pike (Lab, Burnley), who visited John and Henry Lords moorland farm at Littleborough, Lancs, in October, accused the government of not understanding the pressures faced by upland farmers. "If we want our farmers to continue to create the right balance between farming and the environment, they have to have the financial means to do so," he said.
Alan Beith (Lib/Dem, Berwick-upon-Tweed), who visited Jimmy Singers farm at Alwinton, Harbottle, Northumberland, said he was disappointed but not entirely surprised by the governments decision. "The whole rural economy depends on the continuation of the hill livestock industry. It is a thriving activity but it is being seriously threatened."
Paul Tyler, Liberal Democrat rural affairs spokesman, attacked MAFFs claim that the buoyant autumn sales and green £ devaluations had boosted hill farm incomes.
"We are not going to see high feed costs come down. The ministry has been conned by the Treasury," he added.
Conservative backbench reaction to the HLCA freeze was understandably more muted. David Nicholson (Con, Taunton), who visited Andrew Hawkins farm at Simonsbath, Exmoor, said the very mild, wet autumn had led to a flush of late grass growth, which had helped many moorland farmers short of fodder.
Mr Nicholson, however, paid tribute to the NFUs campaign, saying their intense lobbying had been noted by MAFF and the Treasury. "Any cut in HLCAs would have had backbenchers voting against the move," he said.
Lobby groups also spoke of their dismay. George Dunn, Country Landowners Association rural economics adviser, said the CLA wanted to see HLCAs and other livestock subsidies paid on an area rather than a per head basis.
John Rennie, Tenant Farmers Association director general, said many moorland tenant farmers would face a tough short-term future due to the 30% increase in feed costs over the past year. *