Common Agricultural Policy

Part of Bill Presented – in the House of Commons at 5:03 pm on 16th May 1996.

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Photo of Mrs Helen Liddell Mrs Helen Liddell , Monklands East 5:03 pm, 16th May 1996

I wish that the Minister would recognise that one of the great disadvantages for Opposition Members is the fact that Scottish agriculture is dealt with in the other place, by Lord Lindsay. It is regrettable that no Scottish Office Minister has been able to make himself available even to listen to the debate and then convey to his colleagues the issues that are likely to be raised. My hon. Friend the Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes) raised a number of issues arising from the lobby by Scottish farmers who travelled here yesterday. I recognise, however, that many of the issues that we confront in relation to BSE affect every part of the United Kingdom. Indeed, we have much to learn from other parts of the UK. Many Northern Ireland Members have made valuable contributions that have helped us to understand how people there are coping with the problems, and the kind of problems that are involved.

We learnt yesterday that the Scottish unemployment figures had increased, and a Minister admitted that a large proportion of that was due to the BSE crisis. There is a crisis in Scottish agriculture and throughout the Scottish economy, which is directly related to BSE. We must work together and address the issues constructively; there is no point in bluster from Conservative Members. Any points that we make, we make with the intention of making progress.

Agriculture is one of Scotland's leading industries. In 1995, Scottish agricultural output was equivalent to £2.1 billion. The industry employs some 200,000 people. The Trustee Savings bank has estimated that the jobs of about 21,500 people in Scotland could be affected by the beef crisis. That is a catastrophe that far outstrips all the industrial catastrophes that we have experienced in the past 17 years of Conservative government. That is why Opposition Members are keen for the ban to be lifted soon.

It is unfortunate that, early in today's debate, a Conservative Member spoke of the lack of a constructive approach. I have listened with great interest to the speeches and interventions and, if there has been a lack of a constructive approach, it has tended to be among Conservative Back Benchers. Opposition Members are anxious to move forward in concert.

At Question Time today, the issue of the food export market was raised. The food export industry is angry at what is happening to it as a consequence of the beef crisis. It is a significant United Kingdom industry, with an annual turnover of £500 million, and a significant Scottish industry, with an annual turnover of £120 million. It is furious, especially in Scotland, because 20 per cent. of its market has been lost; it has lost 42,000 tonnes a year and £2.3 million a week. It is anxious for answers and for a sense of direction from the Government about what will happen to it.