Common Agricultural Policy

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 6:09 pm on 15th May 1996.

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Photo of Mr George Foulkes Mr George Foulkes , Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley 6:09 pm, 15th May 1996

That is a very good point. I believe that we could have been granted that concession if our negotiators had applied a little more intelligence and capability. I shall return to that point later.

The legacy of delay and dithering dates back some time. Bovine spongiform encephalopathy was identified in November 1986, Ministers were informed of it in June 1987, and in 1989 the Agriculture Committee found that the Government had reacted too slowly regarding the specified offal ban. There are many other examples of the Government's dithering, lack of urgency and complacency in dealing with the problem.

However, we must not dwell on the many mistakes of the past, but we must try to sort out the problem and help those who are suffering. The trade ban is affecting Scottish farming particularly badly, as my hon. Friends know—I consider the hon. Member for Angus, East (Mr. Welsh) to be an hon. Friend in this context at least.

Beef exports are worth £500 million to the United Kingdom, of which £120 million comes from Scotland. Much of Scottish farm production focuses on the export market and three out of four Scottish farmers are involved in beef production. Some 50,000 cattle on Scottish farms are awaiting slaughter and it will take more than a year to get rid of the backlog. We face a particularly difficult problem in Scotland and in Northern Ireland.

Slaughterhouses have also suffered badly. Many operations have ground to a halt, with workers often receiving no wages or benefits. Slaughterhouses which deal with 800,000 cattle a year and upon which many thousands of workers depend are now operating part time. For instance, in Sanquhar they are working a two or three-day week—if they are lucky.

The Ayrshire delegation emphasised the fact that the crises has caused a slump in the market for clean cattle. Cattle that were fetching 150p per kilogram before the crisis now sell for only 80p per kilogram. The tragedy and the irony is that that is less than the 85p per kilogram that is realised by cull cattle. The market has collapsed completely and that is creating tremendous problems for farmers.

The meat processing and bakery industry—which is particularly important in Ayrshire—processes 12,000 tons of beef annually and it has been hit badly by the crisis in confidence. Sales fell dramatically at the start of the crisis and sales in Scotland are now only 50 per cent. of their pre-crisis levels. Road hauliers have been similarly affected. Four out of five vehicles involved in meat transportation are off the road and 80 per cent. of lorries that transport meat are no longer working. Many companies are close to bankruptcy. A road haulage section which employs 1,500 people is losing nearly £5 million per month. The crisis cannot continue.

I have received dozens and dozens—maybe scores—of letters since the crisis began. I have had hundreds of telephone calls and meetings with farmers. Mr. Buchanan from Lendalfoot has written to me, saying: Our investment programme has been immediately halted, no further expenditure can be made at this time. All livestock farming enterprises are in the same position. The wheel has stopped turning! We must start the wheel turning again. The crisis is having a physical and a psychological effect upon the health of those affected. Another of my constituents—I will not mention his name—wrote to me, saying: I had to go to the doctor because I was suffering from depression, I am now on medication". Farmers and others are also in a difficult situation financially.

Our top priority must be the lifting of the ban. That will be achieved by reasoned argument, clever diplomacy and the proper deployment of scientific information, not by bluster, blackmail, the threat of retaliation or by a trade ban. That would only make the situation worse, as the hon. Member for North Cornwall has said.