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This debate has been called not long after the annual conference of the National Farmers Union, where the bungling record of the Minister of Agriculture yet again received its annual drubbing. To farmers in my constituency and elsewhere, after nearly two years as Agriculture Minister, Mr. Hogg has been an unquestioned failure. As we have heard, Government bungling has cost the taxpayer £3.5 billion, which is equivalent to 2p on income tax. To be completely fair to the Minister, he inherited the catalogue of errors that have been made since 1986. If there was ever anything worthy of a motion of censure, this issue is it.
It pains me that, after years of waiting for the Government to sort out the beef mess, we are still waiting. It seems that all along, as I have said before, Mr. Hogg's only method for solving the beef mess has been to recruit Old Father Time and take the best scientific advice—where the definition of "best" is what is best for the Government at the time. I am angry that Welsh, Irish, Scottish and English farmers still have no idea when things will change. No wonder Mr. Hogg was voted the 1996 loser of the year in The Guardian, beating off strong competition from his colleagues. Incompetence has been raised to the level of an art by his Government.
Farmers and consumers alike have been given little indication of Government policy and when to expect things to change for the better. It is a sad joke that is getting sadder. The recent edition of New Ground, the journal of the Socialist, Environment and Resources Association made the observation:
The Tory leadership seems to think that if it closes its eyes and hides in bed, the world and its problems will disappear.
Unfortunately for the Prime Minister, the world is standing around looking at a pathetic lump crouching under the blankets of political incompetence.
That recent critical assessment is sadly even more true of the Minister's miserable performance, which has been abysmal.
Admittedly, the matter has not been helped by the Prime Minister's ludicrous antics to pacify his Euro-sceptics, but I fear that even my pet cat could have done a better and more competent job—and still could, unless he came down with feline spongiform encephalopathy and was no longer able to travel. That point may be sarcastic, but I made it because in my anger I am reminded that people have died as a result of the Government's bungling.
Why did the Government not introduce random testing? Why did they not introduce tagging sooner? Why did not Mr. Hogg listen when the Opposition and farmers called for immediate action to certify herds? The Opposition have constantly suggested the certification of herds since the late 1980s, yet the Ministry of Agriculture is only just looking at it now. If it had acted when we asked, there would have been no need for the extra cull of the selective slaughter scheme.
Apart from the Tory-inflicted environmental and economic disaster, I see from the selective slaughter programme that the Government cannot even organise the clear-up operation of their own mess. My farmers tell me that there are still inconsistencies and problems with the scheme all over the place, including compensation, the definition of a herd, and the additional chaos of the inconsistency of figures on exactly how many cattle are to be slaughtered. It seems that the yo-yo-ing of the figure is dependent on how Mr. Hogg is feeling that morning, which is pathetic and deeply damaging to farmers' businesses.