Margaret Ritchie urges Tory backing for a vital Northern Ireland farming scheme.
Former South Down MP Margaret Ritchie has urged the British government to continue with an important initiative allowing Northern Ireland’s farmers to pass their land down through the generations.
The programme also helps to create a culture of longer-term land leasing in Northern Ireland and encourages the creation of career opportunities for young people.
Lady Ritchie said: “We need to introduce new blood into farming in Northern Ireland. It is a vital industry in our rural economy and for it to grow and develop, we must have ways of succession planning that can allow existing farms to continue confidently.
In addressing the Lords, Lady Ritchie said: “Will the Minister keep in mind the land mobility scheme in Northern Ireland? It has been in operation for three years and facilitates the transfer of land from older retired people to new young entrants. Will he discuss these matters with the Minister responsible for agriculture in Northern Ireland in order to ensure the implementation of best practice?
She added: “It’s not always the case that children want to follow in the family’s tradition and so it is crucial that farmers have an alternative option available.”
Speaking in the House of Lords where she now sits as a non-aligned peer, Lady Ritchie said that Tory ministers should work closely with their counterparts in Northern Ireland to ensure best practice in the scheme.
She asked UK Environment Minister Lord Gardiner to discuss with Edwin Poots MLA, Northern Ireland’s Agricultural Minister, how best to take the programme forward.
Lord Gardiner replied: “I shall certainly do that. Our proposals on lump sum and delinking are to facilitate retirement. That is an issue on which we are consulting.”
Land Mobility Project Manager John McCallister from the Young Farmers’ Clubs of Ulster (YFCU) said: “There is a need for the programme to further develop its influence across the entire spectrum of production agriculture.
“The good news is that it is succeeding where all these objectives are concerned. This will continue to be my sole focus during the period ahead.”