Opposition Day – in the House of Commons at 6:44 pm on 4th November 1998.

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Photo of Michael Lord Michael Lord Deputy Speaker (Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means) 6:44 pm, 4th November 1998

I have selected the amendment in the name of the Prime Minister. I must remind hon. Members that there will be a 10-minute limit on all Back-Bench speeches.

Photo of Tim Yeo Tim Yeo Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs 7:13 pm, 4th November 1998

I beg to move,

That this House deplores the failure of the Government to respond to the deepening crisis in agriculture and to secure an end to the beef export ban; applauds the achievements of British farmers in raising animal welfare and environmental standards; recognises that a thriving rural economy depends on a viable agricultural industry and that this can be achieved by giving farmers a chance to compete on equal terms as summarised in the Opposition's call for a Fair Deal for Farmers; calls on the Government to renew or replace the Calf Processing Scheme, restore HLCAs to 1993 levels and take up agri-monetary compensation for the livestock sector financed by the underspends on the agriculture budget; urges action to establish honesty in labelling to help consumers make better informed choices, to encourage the purchase of home grown food by all public sector bodies and cut the burden of excessive regulation; calls for an immediate ban on the sale of food not produced to standards required in Britain; and condemns the hostility consistently displayed by Ministers to the country people in local government finance, transport and planning policy.

First, I must welcome the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food to the Dispatch Box. We are delighted that he has decided to take part in this debate. After all, it is his first chance to speak in a major agriculture debate since his appointment a little over three months ago.

Photo of Clive Betts Clive Betts Government Whip

It was the summer recess for most of that time.

Photo of Tim Yeo Tim Yeo Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

That is true, but it is also true that for the past three weeks the House has had to debate in Government time all sorts of non-urgent measures, one of which was inspired by the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food on Thursday, on the important but not urgent subject of quarantine. So, this is the Minister's first chance to speak in such a debate and we welcome him to it.

As the right hon. Gentleman knows, in those three months the problems that face farmers have got much worse. Pig farmers have been going bankrupt, sheep farmers have been forced to shoot their flocks, and beef farmers still await an end to the export ban, while dairy farmers and cereal growers are suffering from falling returns. It is no exaggeration to say that the industry is in crisis. At first, the Government seemed inclined to ignore that crisis or even to deny it. Now that they have been forced to admit its existence, they seem confused about what to do. We have called today's debate to give the Minister a chance to end that confusion. Last Thursday, he told the House: Farmers are looking not for a debate, but for answers."— [Official Report, 29 October 1998; Vol. 318, c. 484.] If it were left to the Government, they would get neither.

Photo of Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Conservative, Cotswold

Does my hon. Friend agree that what we want from the Government is a level playing field for agriculture? Does he also agree that, this year, about £310 million is available under the agrimonetary compensation scheme? Nine other Governments have applied for it and it is high time that ours did, as that would considerably benefit our farmers.

Photo of Tim Yeo Tim Yeo Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

My hon. Friend is right. Farmers are looking for a level playing field. He will be amazed to hear that I intend to refer to agrimonetary compensation later as it is mentioned in our motion.

Photo of Robert Jackson Robert Jackson Conservative, Wantage

A decision is pending which will be important for agriculture, given that it is in crisis—the referral of Milk Marque to the Monopolies and Mergers Commission. Given the condition of the industry and all the uncertainties and difficulties in which it finds itself, does my hon. Friend agree that it would be undesirable for that decision to destabilise that important sector?

Photo of Tim Yeo Tim Yeo Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

My hon. Friend is right. It is important that, where possible, we should strengthen the hand of dairy farmers. It would be damaging if the outcome of the inquiry weakened Milk Marque's position or that of other potential groupings in the dairy industry.

In opposition, we have the power to deliver a debate and we intend to use it this evening to tell the Minister the answers that he should be giving to farmers. Those answers are urgently needed because, this very evening, farmers are agonising over their future and need to make plans for the winter against a background of certainty, not doubt. Let no one underestimate the severity of the problem. As the Country Landowners Association said: For the first time in a century the depression in prices has extended across all agriculture.Farmers Weekly has even published a leader warning of the risks of suicide among farmers. In 15 years of representing a farming constituency I cannot remember a bleaker period and right hon. and hon. Friends who have been in the House twice as long tell me that they cannot either. It is not merely farmers who are being destroyed; the entire rural economy has been hit. The fabric of our countryside is threatened—those parts of it which the Deputy Prime Minister has not covered in concrete through his damaging planning decisions.

Photo of Tim Yeo Tim Yeo Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

The Deputy Prime Minister made a statement from the Dispatch Box in February that he would raise the target for the proportion of new homes built on previously developed sites and, since then, he has not allowed one county to revise its structure plan, so it is not nonsense; it is a fact and it is damaging green fields throughout the country. It is helpful of the Labour Whip to make it clear in a sedentary intervention that the Government do not care about the issue.

Today is the Minister's chance to stop the dithering and to show that the warm words that he has been dispensing so freely are backed up by action. We have heard his hints that help is on the way, so let us have the facts. If he has no more to say than the Minister of State said last week, he will provoke fears that, once again, the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food has been outgunned by the Treasury and that the Government's policy on farmers is limited to hoping that the problems will ease if the pound goes down.

Photo of Charlotte Atkins Charlotte Atkins Labour, Staffordshire Moorlands

Why did the previous Government never pay agrimonetary compensation to farmers?

Photo of Tim Yeo Tim Yeo Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

If the hon. Lady took the trouble to meet any farmers, she would learn that the current crisis in agriculture is of a wholly different order from anything that was experienced under the Conservative Government.

If the Government's policy on farming is limited to hoping that the pound will go down, the Minister will find that he has more trouble to face. To help him, we set out in the motion what needs to be done. The Government must either renew or replace the calf processing scheme. I warmly welcome reports today of progress towards lifting the ban on beef exports, but, even if the ban is lifted soon, it will take time for British producers to regain their market share. To end the calf scheme without even having a firm date for lifting the ban would be rash, so I urge the Minister to continue such help, at a lower rate if necessary, but certainly for another year.

Hill farming is one of the most vulnerable sections of the industry. The National Farmers Union report, "Protecting Our Upland Heritage", pointed out that two out of three Welsh hill farmers had incomes of less than £190 a week last year. The Fanners Union of Wales predicts that, this year, incomes will fall by more than half. In Wales, many farmers are working for incomes well below the minimum wage. Not surprisingly, among the FUW's priorities is the need for an increase in hill livestock compensatory allowances.

Last week, the Minister of State referred to the Government's intention to consider changes to HLCAs in the context of Agenda 2000. He said that the Government planned to consult on options for a new scheme later this year. That is all very well, but what is happening now? The hill farming review is supposed to take account of current conditions; surely an immediate increase in HLCAs is justified in response to the current crisis. Perhaps the former Secretary of State for Wales let the cat out of the bag when he said that no money was available. Is the review nothing more than a sham?

Photo of Anthony Steen Anthony Steen Conservative, Totnes

I am grateful for this opportunity to draw the attention of the House to hill farmers not only in Wales but in Devon and Somerset. Is my hon. Friend aware that the earnings of Dartmoor hill farmers—and we should not forget the lowland farmers— are as low as those of Welsh hill farmers? I hope that he will tell the Minister what he should be doing about that, as the Minister clearly has not got a clue about what he should be doing.

Photo of Tim Yeo Tim Yeo Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Everything I have said about Welsh hill farmers should be understood to apply to the equally urgent needs of hill farmers across the country.

Photo of Mr Hilton Dawson Mr Hilton Dawson Labour, Lancaster and Wyre

Why did the previous Government freeze HLCAs in 1992? I suspect that it was not because hill farmers were doing so well; then, as now, they were on the margins of viability. Why the sudden change?

Photo of Tim Yeo Tim Yeo Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

I thought that I had explained that the purpose of the review is to reflect the current situation. The previous Government took decisions in relation to the situation that faced hill farmers at the time. I am asking this Government to do the same. Given what the former Secretary of State for Wales said, however, we fear that their minds have been made up regardless of hill farmers' needs.

My hon. Friend the Member for Cotswold (Mr. Clifton-Brown) mentioned agrimonetary compensation. Given the crisis in the livestock sector, why have not the Government drawn down the full amount of compensation? I am advised that £48 million is available this year for the livestock sector. Although taking up that money would of course cut Britain's rebate from the European Union, it would still represent good value, as the actual cash help to farmers would considerably exceed the net cost to the taxpayer. If the Minister does not take up that money, will he explain why he wants British farmers to be at a disadvantage to those farmers in other European countries who utilise that help when they are eligible to do so?

On the issues that I have mentioned, let us have no more dithering. Today, let the Minister show that he cares as much as we do about the survival of Britain's farmers.

Photo of Mark Todd Mark Todd Labour, South Derbyshire

Will the hon. Gentleman return to his shopping list and say what amounts of money he suggests should be set aside in this year's expenditure plans to pay for his proposals?

Photo of Tim Yeo Tim Yeo Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

The hon. Gentleman has obviously read the motion—I am about to come to that very point.

We have tried to make life easy for the Minister— [HON. MEMBERS: "Shame."] We must remember that the Minister is not his predecessor. I admit that that is not a demanding benchmark, but he deserves a fair chance. The motion points out that, this year and last year, there has been an underspend in the agriculture budget. In plain English, that means that the Labour Government decided to spend less on agriculture during their first two years in office than the outgoing Conservative Government would have done if they had been re-elected.

Photo of Shaun Woodward Shaun Woodward Conservative, Witney

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way; he has been extremely tolerant in taking a number of interventions, not least from Labour Members, who seem hellbent on referring to the past when they should be focusing on their responsibilities for the present, which are indeed onerous. Of course farmers faced difficulties under the Conservative Government, but those difficulties have now turned into crisis and depression. In my constituency, farmers— especially those in the pig industry—face particularly severe problems. Farm-gate prices have fallen by some 60 per cent. in the past two years. We look forward to hearing the Minister give a response that will, unlike those that he has given in the past, tell pig farmers what short-term help they will receive to prevent even more of them from going bust in the next few months.

Photo of Tim Yeo Tim Yeo Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

My hon. Friend is right. It is no exaggeration to say that agriculture is threatened by depression. He is also right to highlight the problems of pig farmers, which I shall deal with in a moment.

As I was saying, the Government have cut help to farmers—help that they would have received from a Conservative Government—just as the industry is sliding towards depression. The cost of the measures that I have proposed is significantly less than the underspend on the agriculture budget in the past two years.

Photo of Dr Alan Williams Dr Alan Williams Labour, Carmarthen East and Dinefwr

Does the shadow Minister recognise that the Government's expenditure on agriculture is greater than that for the whole of the Department of Trade and Industry? There is one reason for that—the Conservative Government's legacy of BSE.

Photo of Tim Yeo Tim Yeo Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

I am not sure whether the hon. Gentleman is saying that the Government are spending too much on agriculture. If so, I have no doubt that the Minister will respond to his point.

In our fair deal for farmers campaign, we have also highlighted non-financial issues, such as the sale of imported food that has been produced under conditions that are not allowed in this country. I believe that many consumers would be shocked if they knew what was happening.

I take the example of pigs. British pig farmers have invested heavily to meet the higher animal welfare standards that the public rightly demand. That has made their costs higher than those of their European competitors. British pigs are no longer reared in stalls or on tethers and they are not fed on meat and bone meal, yet British bacon sits on the counter alongside bacon imported from countries where animal welfare standards are lower and restrictions on feeding are less tight, and consumers remain in the dark.

British pig farmers are suffering from unfair competition, and that situation should stop now.

Photo of Mr Paul Tyler Mr Paul Tyler Liberal Democrat, North Cornwall

As I asked the hon. Gentleman this question last week and he has had 10 days to think about it, I hope that he will be able to answer. If it is time for that unfair competition to stop now, why was it not the time for it to be stopped when it started? Under the previous Government, the pig sector was very hard hit by exactly the same problem. I constantly pressed Ministers to do something, but nothing was done. Why not?

Photo of Tim Yeo Tim Yeo Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

I deeply regret giving way to the hon. Gentleman, who made a very childish contribution at business questions last Thursday and who has displayed his extraordinary ignorance of the subject that he is trying to address. The pig sector is going through a major crisis: pig farmers are going bankrupt every week. That situation requires an urgent response and could not be more different from the highly profitable conditions that pig farmers enjoyed under the Conservative Government.

Photo of Keith Simpson Keith Simpson Shadow Spokesperson (Defence)

Is my hon. Friend aware that, yesterday morning, my right hon. Friend the Member for South-West Norfolk (Mrs. Shephard), my hon. Friend the Member for North Norfolk (Mr. Prior) and I attended a meeting in Norwich with a large number of pig farmers who made the point that, although there have been problems in the past, there has never been such a crisis in pig farming? They are not people who complain or whinge, and they are not subsidised—I know that the Minister will agree with that—but they are literally at the end of their tether. They want more than good words and an appearance by Ministers at a pig industry breakfast. They want the Government to take action and not simply to go through the motions of support.

Photo of Tim Yeo Tim Yeo Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. His knowledge of and interest in the pig industry contrasts sharply with the ignorance displayed by the hon. Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler). I hope that pig farmers in the west country will be aware of how little he knows about the subject.

A great deal of poultry is being imported from the far east. Avoparcin, a growth promoter which was banned in Europe two years ago, is still widely used in feeding poultry in the far east: another fact which, I suspect, is not widely known by consumers. The Opposition believe that the sale of food produced by methods not allowed here should be halted.

If good British beef can be banned from entering the rest of the European Union, the Government should be able to find a way of stopping the importation of illegal food. They could start by reading article 36 of the treaty of Rome, which is now article 30 of the treaty of Amsterdam, which allows restrictions on imports if they can be justified on the grounds of protecting the health and life of humans and animals. Will the Minister urgently investigate how such items can be prevented from coming into Britain, or does he prefer to let the British public remain in the dark and go on buying food the production of which has involved unlawful methods?

I was delighted by today's news that the supermarkets have agreed to make it clear to consumers which food is grown in Britain and which is merely processed here.

Photo of Angela Browning Angela Browning Conservative, Tiverton and Honiton

My hon. Friend will recall that, in last Monday's debate, I and my hon. Friend the Member for Teignbridge (Mr. Nicholls) asked why schools in Devon serve Irish rather than British beef. The following day, the chief executive and the Liberal Democrat leader of Devon county council explained to us and, I believe, to the hon. Member for Torridge and West Devon (Mr. Burnett), that no British company wanted the contract.

I did not believe that to be the truth, and I wrote to the council leader immediately asking him to print the names of all those who had tendered for the contract. I have not received the names. I contacted him again today and he told me that he would write to me shortly. Is not that disgraceful from a council led by a party that says that we should support British farmers?

Photo of Tim Yeo Tim Yeo Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

My hon. Friend performed a valuable service for the House, for the voters of Devonshire and for food producers in the western region by exposing the Liberal party's duplicity. I am pleased that she is pursuing the matter and deeply shocked at the failure of the council concerned to give a straight answer to a straight question. The Liberal party has been shown up for what it is, preaching one thing but doing another.

It was unsatisfactory that food could be labelled as British when in fact it was sourced outside this country, and we have been calling for some time for the distinction to be made clear to consumers. I pay tribute to those involved in taking that important step forward and I hope that action will be immediate.

Steps must also be taken in the public sector. Some weeks ago, I wrote to the Home Secretary and to the Secretaries of State for Health, for Education and Employment and for Defence to ask whether they would issue guidance on food purchasing to prisons, hospitals and schools. To date, only one of those four Departments has even replied to my letter. That does not suggest that helping local farmers is a high priority for the Government.

The one Department that replied, the Department for Education and Employment, made it clear that it did not want to issue guidance on the matter, preferring to leave it to the local authorities: hardly encouraging, since most local authorities offer no guidance apart from a consistent hostility towards beef among Labour-controlled councils.

Photo of David Drew David Drew Labour/Co-operative, Stroud

All local authorities work under the competitive tendering regime. Which Government were responsible for introducing that?

Photo of Tim Yeo Tim Yeo Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

There are still ways in which councils could encourage local farmers. Sourcing food locally produces higher quality and better value for money, and I understand that the Government wanted that to be done under their best value programme for local councils.

As we have heard, not only Labour councils are letting down British farmers; the Liberal Democrats are at it as well. I hope that the Minister will accept that the public sector has many opportunities to buy locally produced food. Will he at least find out whether his Cabinet colleagues are willing to give a lead? Does he agree that their failure even to answer my letter after seven weeks suggests that they do not care much about the countryside?

It is just over five weeks since the Meat (Hygiene and Inspection) (Charges) Regulations 1998 came into force. They impose a heavy cost on abattoirs, and especially small ones, which are required to pay for the much more intensive supervision of their work that now takes place. The extra costs are a burden and tend to reduce the prices that they can afford to pay farmers for livestock. Will the Minister find out quickly how those costs are being met in other European Union countries? Does he recognise that the costs may be placing an unfair burden on Britain, putting businesses and farmers here at a disadvantage relative to the rest of the EU?

In our campaign for a fair deal for farmers, we are concerned about the Government's general attitude to the countryside. Farmers are already struggling and the morale of the whole rural community has been further weakened by the Government's hostility. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh dear."] That was an instructive reaction. Government Back Benchers, some of whom may even claim to represent rural seats, are trying to rubbish this point. Let me remind them that, last year, the Deputy Prime Minister cut by £100 million the cash that was given to rural councils, resulting in fewer services in rural areas. Will that cut be reversed when the cash help—the revenue support grant—for next year is announced in four weeks' time?

Have the Labour Members who are trying to rubbish this point made any representations on behalf of their constituents? Will the Minister tell us whether he has made representations to the Deputy Prime Minister? Does he understand that the matter is important to the rural communities? Will he tell us this evening what he has been doing?

While the Minister is speaking to the Deputy Prime Minister, will he also tell him to drop the threat of a new law for a right to roam? Good progress is being made on increasing access to private land on a voluntary basis. Why will not the Government let that continue, without more threats?

We warmly welcome the progress that is being made towards lifting the beef ban. I wish the Minister well in his efforts to have it lifted at the Agriculture Council meeting later this month. Does he recognise that even if the ban is lifted, it will take some time before the markets are recovered? Will he confirm that the lifting of the ban will be partial, not total, and that it will still not be possible to export beef on the bone, and the export of pedigree cattle—the best of British breeding stock—will still not be able to resume?

When will the Minister see sense and accept our request for a lifting of the ban in Britain on beef on the bone? That ban was introduced by his predecessor last December. It damaged confidence in British beef just when the Government should have been trying to boost it. The ban was not justified then and is not justified now. Even a year ago, one of the options from the Spongiform Encephalopathy Advisory Committee, SEAC, was to publish the research and the risk assessment and to let consumers decide. Will he agree this evening to do that?

Agriculture is in crisis—a crisis that affects the entire rural community. Action is needed now. Any delay by the Minister amounts to fiddling while Rome burns. I have set out three financial measures, which could be paid for out of the underspend on the agricultural budget, and five other steps that would not cost the taxpayer a penny. Farmers in every corner of Britain are waiting for the Minister's reply. The best early Christmas present to them would be for him to accept the Conservative motion, which I commend to the House.

Photo of Nick Brown Nick Brown Secretary of State for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Minister of State (Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food) 7:41 pm, 4th November 1998

I thank the hon. Member for South Suffolk (Mr. Yeo) for arranging the debate, and for the welcome that he has again given me to the Dispatch Box.

Leaving to one side all the political rhetoric and knockabout, and dealing just with the ideas that the hon. Gentleman advanced, it is clear that there is not as much between us as those observing these proceedings might think. Many of the ideas that he advanced are perfectly sensible and it is entirely reasonable for him to invite Government to consider them.

Nevertheless, I beg to move, To leave out from "House" to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof: welcomes the Government's strong commitment to the United Kingdom farming industry and to the wider rural economy; recognises that the lifting of the beef export ban in Northern Ireland represents the first crucial step towards lifting the ban from all parts of the United Kingdom; welcomes the steps which the Government has taken since May 1997 to support the beef and sheep industry via EU agri-monetary compensation and relief from charges; acknowledges the steps taken specifically to help the sheep, pig and cereal sectors with targeted EU measures; and endorses the Government's intention to bring about a secure and viable future for United Kingdom farming by seeking a reformed Common Agricultural Policy, which is more economically rational, which reduces the bureaucratic burden on farmers, which enhances targeted support for the rural economy, which serves the consumer well and which contains fair and common rules to ensure that the United Kingdom's farming and food industries can exploit their competitive advantages in European and world markets." [Interruption.]

I see that Opposition Members are disappointed—they thought that I would simply accept the motion and we could all go home. Unfortunately, that is not possible. As they have arranged for the debate and taken the trouble to get me to the Dispatch Box, the least that I can do is to respond to the hon. Gentleman.

I acknowledge that agriculture is going through difficult times, and that the times are hardest for hill farmers and those more generally in the livestock sector. I acknowledge that times are difficult also for others in agriculture. There are a range of reasons for this, some sector-specific and some general. In some sectors, supply is out of balance with demand, not just in the United Kingdom, but in western Europe.

Against that background, I freely acknowledge that the terms of trade in the recent past have been difficult for British farmers. The collapse of important export markets in Russia and the far east has exacerbated the problem, as has the ban on the export of British beef, which has not only made life difficult for farmers, but led to loss of important markets. Over-optimistic assumptions about the scale of future demand were made in some farm sectors.

The industry's problems are exacerbated because all those factors, each of which would cause problems on its own, have come at the same time. Agricultural production is a cyclical industry. Its current difficulties are heightened because most sectors of the industry are suffering a downturn simultaneously.

Photo of Shaun Woodward Shaun Woodward Conservative, Witney

Will the right hon. Gentleman acknowledge that farming is in recession? If so, does he propose to take immediate action to help farmers out of the recession?

Photo of Nick Brown Nick Brown Secretary of State for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Minister of State (Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food)

I do not want to engage in a semantic debate about crisis, recession or difficulties. That would not help. If I were a farmer who was making an assessment about how to get through the present problems, and looking hard at what the Government could do to help, but acknowledging that ultimately I had to make my way in the marketplace, I would not want to go to see my bank manager, if I were asking for my loan facility to be extended, and hear the bank manager say that the Minister had just confirmed that farmers were going through a crisis.

One must respond proportionately and accept that the ultimate decisions will be made by individuals who are quite capable of taking charge of their own affairs in the marketplace. Government have a responsibility to be candid about the shape of the marketplace. That is particularly important in the agricultural sector, because the parameters are set to some extent artificially by the workings of the common agricultural policy.

Several hon. Members:


Photo of Robert Smith Robert Smith Liberal Democrat, West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine

Does the Minister recognise that if a farmer goes to his bank manager and presents his books, the bank manager is likely to foreclose on the farmer unless he is aware that there is a general crisis. From my conversations with bank managers, it seems that their head offices are being helpful and telling bank managers that a 50 per cent. drop in the books is not unique to a particular farmer and represents not a failure on the part of that farmer, but the crisis facing the industry. It is important for farmers that bank managers understand that—

Photo of Nick Brown Nick Brown Secretary of State for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Minister of State (Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food)

I have got the point. The banks follow these matters closely, for obvious reasons—it is their money that they are lending. I do not want to make matters worse for farmers through the use of inappropriate language. I want to deal with the situation in its proper terms and to advance remedies.

Photo of Robert Jackson Robert Jackson Conservative, Wantage

Does the Minister agree that one of the things that farmers can do to help themselves is to co-operate? Will he bear in mind the importance of agricultural co-operation when the Monopolies and Mergers Commission reference comes to him?

Photo of Nick Brown Nick Brown Secretary of State for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Minister of State (Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food)

That is an important point. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will forgive me if I do not say too much specifically about Milk Marque, as it would not be proper for me to do so in the current circumstances. More generally, the hon. Gentleman's point is right. In my meetings with farmers, I have been urging them to come together collectively to make sure that the producer side can make a unified response to others in the marketplace who seem more powerful than they are, particularly the big retailers.

Photo of Mr Cynog Dafis Mr Cynog Dafis Plaid Cymru, Ceredigion

The Minister speaks of markets and of redressing the balance of power. During Welsh questions this afternoon, I raised a related matter. It is alleged that in abattoirs, of which a large share is owned by supermarkets, the grading of cattle is being carried out not always on the basis of objective criteria, but on the basis of the purchasing requirements of supermarkets at a particular time on a particular day, and that Meat and Livestock Commission officers doing the work of grading are obliged to participate in that. Is that not wrong? Does it not show that supermarkets are acquiring inordinate power in the abattoir system and the marketplace generally? Should not the Minister examine the matter carefully and always—

Photo of Michael Lord Michael Lord Deputy Speaker (Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

Order. Before the Minister answers that question, I remind the House that Madam Speaker has put a limit of 10 minutes on Back-Bench speeches because this is a short debate. Interventions, especially long interventions, only take more time out of it.

Photo of Nick Brown Nick Brown Secretary of State for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Minister of State (Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food)

I am not sure that hon. Members are not taking their 10 minutes out of my time as I slowly work my way round the Chamber. I shall make sure that the hon. Gentleman gets a full written response to his question, as I want to consult officials. On supermarket criteria generally, he is right. The supermarkets do lay down exacting standards, which they expect to be met. If he is suggesting that that is being done improperly, I do not believe that to be so, but I will check with officials and if it is so, it will be prevented. I want the marketplace to operate in a fair and transparent way. I shall take two more interventions, then I must make progress.

Photo of John Hayes John Hayes Conservative, South Holland and The Deepings

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for giving way so generously. He has mentioned the marketplace four times in one sentence, rather as if he were a cross between Hayek and Milton Friedman. Does he understand that the marketplace in agriculture is imperfect? Our farmers want the right to compete on a level playing field, and there is no use his telling them to compete in a free market if no one else works to the same rules. They want the right sort of Government support so that they can compete effectively against foreign farmers.

Photo of Nick Brown Nick Brown Secretary of State for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Minister of State (Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food)

I am afraid that the hon. Gentleman is preaching to the converted. As I have said already, the marketplace in agriculture is particularly distorted because of both the peculiar common agricultural policy regime and the actions that national Governments must take to fit that regime to current circumstances. Sometimes, those actions make matters worse rather than better. I follow the strand of the hon. Gentleman's thought, and I can assure him that I will do all I can to get sensible reform of the CAP. I hope that the World Trade Organisation round will bring further progress, and that enlargement of the European Union as we embrace the countries of the east will provide another liberalising element. In any event, world trade is liberalising, and there is no good reason why agriculture should be left out. I give way at last to the hon. Member for Billericay (Mrs. Gorman).

Photo of Mrs Teresa Gorman Mrs Teresa Gorman Conservative, Billericay

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for saving the best until last. He has talked about bank managers and farmers' financial problems. He has also commented on the basic causes of those problems. What would he say to my pig and poultry farmers who tell me that the value of the pound means that their products are less competitive than imported products, which are more attractive to shopkeepers? The cost of their overdrafts is also dictated by the Government's financial policies. What would the right hon. Gentleman urge the Chancellor to do about that?

Photo of Nick Brown Nick Brown Secretary of State for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Minister of State (Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food)

I would not urge him to devalue the currency artificially, any more than I would urge him artificially to overvalue it. It is odd that the debate is being conducted this way round with Labour Members defending market assessments of the currency's value while Conservatives urge that we both disregard the fact that currency is a store of value and devalue it so that it can have a particular impact on one sector of the economy. I have acknowledged that the terms of trade have not helped agriculture in recent times, but those terms fluctuate, and that is at least part of the cause of the economic cycle in the industry. I cannot extrapolate from a specific problem a general policy on exchange rates. That would not be sensible, and the previous Government did not do it either.

Photo of Ben Bradshaw Ben Bradshaw Labour, Exeter

Does my right hon. Friend find it puzzling that while farmers representatives in the National Farmers Union and the Country Landowners Association share the Government's policy of joining the euro as soon as it is in our economic interests to do so, the Conservative party, which claims to be the farmer's friend, has ruled out joining for 10 years?

Photo of Nick Brown Nick Brown Secretary of State for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Minister of State (Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food)

I do not find that puzzling. Some hon. Members may not know that in 1990 the current Leader of the Opposition also shared our policy. It seems that those who have brought their minds to bear on the matter see some merits in our policy.

Having taken a fair tranche of interventions, I shall return to my prepared response to the motion. I am willing to respond, but, before doing so, I was willing to listen, not just to my professional advisers and to farmers' representatives, with whom it is proper that I discuss these matters. I made an enormous effort to meet farmers themselves, and to ask them what they think the Government should do. They, of course, have told me. My approach to the current situation will be based on the representations made to me by farmers themselves.

Strategically I have three tasks: responding to the present situation; engaging farmers in the Agenda 2000 CAP reform package; and carrying the whole sector—farmers, retailers and middlemen alike—together through the changes and restructuring currently taking place, including the challenges presented by a new round of negotiations in the WTO and by EU enlargement, to move us into the more liberal agricultural markets of the next millennium.

Let me say something more about the present situation. The Government have already taken a series of steps to help UK agriculture. My predecessor paid £85 million in agrimonetary compensation to UK suckler cow and sheep producers early in 1998. He ensured that the Government met the costs in 1998–99 of Meat Hygiene Service enforcement of controls on specified risk material from cattle and sheep, which had a value to the industry of £35 million. He ensured that the Government met the start-up and first year running costs of the new cattle tracing system, which had a value to the industry—beef and dairy producers alike—of a further £35 million. Traceability is here to stay. It is fundamental to the operation of a modern industry and the Government cannot and will not go back from it.

Photo of Mr Paul Tyler Mr Paul Tyler Liberal Democrat, North Cornwall

Is not it a little perverse to suggest that those sums were in some way to the benefit of the industry when they were in fact compensation for the incompetence of the previous Government? Those were not hand outs to the industry, but compensation for the damage done to it. Will the Minister comment on the information being put before the Phillips inquiry into BSE by civil servants and former civil servants? That makes it quite clear that former Ministers connived with deception as to what should and should not be put into the public domain, and that they were extremely complacent about the consequences of doing so. Will the Minister ensure that the inquiry hears evidence—

Photo of Patrick Cormack Patrick Cormack Shadow Deputy Leader of the House of Commons, Shadow Minister (Constitutional Affairs)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is it in order for the hon. Gentleman to anticipate a public inquiry that has not yet reached any conclusion?

Photo of Michael Lord Michael Lord Deputy Speaker (Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

I think that the hon. Gentleman was referring to evidence that might be before the inquiry rather than anything else.

Photo of Nick Brown Nick Brown Secretary of State for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Minister of State (Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food)

The inquiry will report to me and to the Secretary of State for Health. I do not want to say anything to jeopardise it or pre-empt it.

On the narrower point made by the hon. Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler) about industry charges, I am not sure that I agree. The charges were necessary for the industry. Traceability is certainly necessary if the industry is to operate in a modern environment. Our major trading partners, including those whose markets we are trying to get back into, would look askance if we had no competent traceability scheme in place. I opened the British cattle traceability scheme formally at Workington last Friday, although it has been running for a few weeks. I was very impressed by how the work has been organised and by the enthusiasm of a relatively young work force who are making a go of something that is relatively new to the UK. As well as being enthusiastic about what they are doing, the work force understands its importance.

I have outlined what my predecessor did. In normal conditions, I believe that at least some of the costs that I mentioned should have been borne by the industry. However, the steps that we have taken recognise that market conditions are not normal. Since I have been Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, I have initiated the following steps to help. We have made use of a scheme for private storage aid for sheepmeat, following up the earlier scheme in March. I accept that the money does not go to farmers, but it is intended to strengthen market prices and to benefit all sheep producers. We have removed obstacles to the export of whole sheep carcases to France from the UK, with effect from 8 October, and I acknowledge the help of the hon. Member for Bosworth (Mr. Tredinnick) in his role as Chairman of the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments.

The EU opened a private storage aid scheme for pigmeat in September 1998, and all EU producers should benefit from the firming up of prices that should result from taking meat off the market. The UK exceptionally allowed an increase in the moisture content of grain entering UK intervention, in recognition of the wet summer, and the value of that to all UK cereal producers is £0.5 million. We are acting on the EU decision that will allow early payment of £100 million in EU subsidy to beef producers.

Those measures have been welcomed by farmers and farmers' representatives, but I do not regard them as a sufficient response to the present difficulties. I am working on a range of proposals with others in the Government, and I hope soon to be in a position to be able to say more to the House. The proposals under discussion are all based on a range of ideas put to me by farmers or their representatives. The range of ideas offered is not so very different from that offered by the hon. Member for South Suffolk.

We all understand what is under discussion. I know that there is great interest in how much I am able to deliver from one perspective or in what the announcement will be from another. I apologise but I am not able to say anything to the House tonight for reasons which I think those who have experience in these matters will recognise are perfectly good reasons. As the more experienced among us will know, if an early answer is wanted it is no.

Photo of James Gray James Gray Conservative, North Wiltshire

Does the Minister accept that farmers are in such a complete state of crisis and suicidal depression over these matters that even though the right hon. Gentleman cannot yet announce what his package will be, some indication of when he will make the announcement would in itself be helpful for the morale of farmers across Britain? Will he make his announcement before Christmas, for example?

Photo of Nick Brown Nick Brown Secretary of State for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Minister of State (Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food)

I am making progress, which should be of some comfort to the hon. Gentleman. I hope to be able to make an announcement within weeks and preferably within days. Further than that I think it is unwise to go without tipping my own negotiating hand. Suffice it to say that I am taking my new responsibilities very seriously and applying some old skills.

Photo of Anthony Steen Anthony Steen Conservative, Totnes

If there is a little time before the Minister makes his statement, will he examine carefully the experience of French farmers, who have the availability of cheap borrowing and not the ordinary bank rate, which means that they can borrow money at 2 or 3 per cent? That availability to our farmers would help them tremendously over the crisis. Is the right hon. Gentleman planning to consider an alternative scheme by which farmers can borrow at a much lower rate than the bank rate? Is that on his screen?

Photo of Nick Brown Nick Brown Secretary of State for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Minister of State (Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food)

That is an interesting philosophical point. It is rather odd that the parties are again this way round. I believe in free markets and that there should be no artificial construction for one sector to deal with an industry's specific problem. The hon. Gentleman is advocating a specific reduced rate of interest to deal with a particular sector in the marketplace. When I was elected to this place in 1983, we used to have these discussions. I used to do my best for my shipbuilding constituency. The arguments then used to be the other way round. I used to be advocating special state aids and the Conservative party used to explain that that was not the right way forward. We seem to have passed each other as we have crossed from Opposition to Government. Anyway, there we have it.

Farmers complain that there are subsidy regimes in place in other countries that are not available to them. Where these regimes are outwith the European rules it has been the time-honoured position of the Government that the Commission should address that. We have had some success in making these representations in the past. I shall have something to say on the specific point in a moment.

My principal announcements are delayed—I am certain that the reason is obvious to everyone in the House—because they cost money. Let me knock down the idea that farmers are always asking for money from the public purse. They have not done so. Not one farmer or farm representative has asked me for a commitment from public funds to bail out the industry. I have been asked for measures targeted at the present position, a sense of direction for the future, a constructive dialogue within the sector—with our European Union partners as much as within the United Kingdom—and for political leadership. All of these I intend to provide.

Photo of Mr Christopher Gill Mr Christopher Gill Conservative, Ludlow

I am pleased to hear what the Minister has just said about the representations that he has received from farmers. There are many of us who believe that subsidies are not the answer for any industry. It is a fact of life that agriculture is subsidised in this country and on the continent, but will the right hon. Gentleman take on board as a matter of principle that the Government can make absolutely sure that it does not add to the overhead burden—the cost to the industry—by Government measures? That would be helpful to the industry and something entirely within the gift of the Government.

Photo of Nick Brown Nick Brown Secretary of State for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Minister of State (Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food)

I am sympathetic to the hon. Gentleman's representations. I acknowledge to the House the specific efforts that the hon. Gentleman has made for the pig farmers who he represents. I am sympathetic to the pig sector because it does not receive large payments from the public purse, even in the current difficulties. I freely acknowledge that the pig sector is in crisis because it asked for a state handout to bail it out. It has made points along the lines of the hon. Gentleman's intervention. I shall have something to say about that when I get to the pig sector in my statement.

Photo of John Home Robertson John Home Robertson Labour, East Lothian

To take up some of the previous interventions, perhaps I should say thank you for a substantial arable area payment cheque that I received recently, along with many other farmers. These cheques have helped to keep people employed. Following the intervention from Ludlow, I urge my right hon. Friend to understand that the sort of regulation that guarantees the safety of food is imperative to safeguard the interests of consumers and those of farmers. I hope sincerely that my right hon. Friend will be able to make progress on that, perhaps in the Queen's speech.

Photo of Nick Brown Nick Brown Secretary of State for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Minister of State (Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food)

Yes. I shall have something of substance to say about the Food Standards Agency and how the Government intend to make progress with the proposal immediately after the Queen's speech. Of course I cannot anticipate the Queen's speech.

On the broader question of food standards and whether we should somehow make a concession that would perhaps have an impact on the public's perception of the public health debate, the answer is no. However, there are some technical aspects that the industry has asked me to consider, which I am looking at. Of course, the public's safety must come first and I must be alert to questions of cross-contamination as well as to issues concerning the specific operations of the industry.

I refer specifically to the beef sector. As we all know, one of the most important things that I could do would be to lift the export ban in Europe. The motion deplores the fact that I have not done so. The House will want to know that today, in the Standing Veterinary Committee, a Commission proposal that would allow the United Kingdom's date-based export scheme to go ahead received a favourable response from a simple majority of the EU member states. If this vote is repeated in the Agriculture Council on Monday and Tuesday, 23 and 24 November, the way will be open for British beef from cattle born after 1 August 1996 to re-enter European and world markets.

I hope that that is welcome on both sides of the House—[Interruption.] I am grateful to the Opposition for acknowledging that this is important to our country. The Opposition spokesman, the hon. Member for South Suffolk, is right to point out that this is for deboned beef. The scheme does not allow for the export of live calves. It does not allow for the export of beef on the bone, but it is an important start. It will enable the British industry to work to get back into markets that we have lost. We shall have to make a substantial effort to get back into those markets, the more so because of the surplus of beef in the EU at present. It is not an easy time to re-enter markets.

Photo of Owen Paterson Owen Paterson Conservative, North Shropshire

Today, I talked to a major exporter of Scottish beef in Inverurie, who had a very substantial export business to Italy, Holland and France. Almost all that beef was on the bone for sale to high-quality restaurants and distributors. They bought it specifically because it was on the bone. They do not want to buy deboned beef. What efforts will the right hon. Gentleman make either to lift the beef-on-the-bone ban here or to ensure that exports of beef on the bone will be allowed shortly after the ban is lifted?

Photo of Nick Brown Nick Brown Secretary of State for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Minister of State (Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food)

Of course this is not the end. I intend to continue to get British deboned beef into other world markets from which it is currently excluded. I intend to make steady progress in getting beef on the bone, when it is safe to do so in response to scientific advice, back into world markets. It is not as though this is one announcement after which the Government will call it all dealt with. I want to make steady progress so that British food products—livestock products—from every sector are back where they should be in world markets. Further, I want British products to be acknowledged for what they should be, which is among the safest products in the world. I want our country's name to be synonymous with excellence. I do not want consumers to be afraid to buy British because they are not certain of the quality or, indeed, the safety of the product. That is my ambition and I shall make remorseless progress towards achieving it. The announcement that I have made is important, but it is by no means the end.

Photo of Mr Michael Colvin Mr Michael Colvin Conservative, Romsey

Following on from what he has just said, will the Minister also ensure that, when the British housewife goes to the supermarket or other retail outlet to buy a British product, she can tell whether she really is buying British? Within his current proposals, what can the Minister do to promote British beef and the buying of it, and to overcome some of the current difficulties with labelling?

Photo of Nick Brown Nick Brown Secretary of State for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Minister of State (Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food)

When the British consumer goes to the supermarket, I hope that she—or he—will buy British, not because the retailer has stuck a Union Jack on the product, but because he or she wants to buy the product because of its quality and the safety and farm welfare standards pertaining to the rearing of livestock in the United Kingdom.

How will consumers know what they are buying? They will have to be told, which is why I am discussing with retailers a UK-specific scheme that will enable consumers to make an informed choice. That suggestion was made by Opposition Members, by Labour Members and by the industry. It is right that I, as the Minister, accept my responsibilities for getting the producer and retail sides of the industry together to discuss proposals of that sort. I think that the House will welcome the comments that I shall make later about my meeting yesterday with the British Retail Consortium.

Photo of Ann Winterton Ann Winterton Conservative, Congleton

Bearing in mind the success of campaigns to persuade people—although they need little persuasion—of the excellence of British beef, pork and lamb and to ensure that consumers are able to recognise such products in supermarkets by their labelling, will the Minister also tackle the catering industry? That industry uses a great deal of meat from a variety of sources, but when people go out to eat, they do not necessarily know that what they are eating is the best of British.

Photo of Nick Brown Nick Brown Secretary of State for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Minister of State (Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food)

Together with my hon. Friend the Minister of State, I am taking a hard look at the catering industry. One third of all livestock products go through catering rather than home retailing, so it is right to pay attention to the catering industry. Clearly, a labelling scheme would not work in quite the same way, but there are other methods of ensuring that customers are informed about the origins of the product that they are eating. We are giving careful thought to the matter. I share the objective of the hon. Member for Congleton (Mrs. Winterton): I, too, believe in informed consumer choice and a free marketplace.

The position that we are now in regarding the export ban has not been easily achieved. We are making progress because our case is founded on science and on the technical implementation of the date-based export scheme, which is itself based on the agreement reached by European Heads of Government in Florence. I have to persuade other Farm Ministers that there is a case for lifting the ban. We have to explain our position to the technical specialists in other countries and to Commission officials. It is also important that I explain the British Government's position to individual Commissioners and to Members of the European Parliament. I pay tribute to the officials from my Department and from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office who have worked so hard to present Britain's case. We are getting there, and we are doing so because we are constructively engaged with the institutions of the European Union.

Before they are so free with their condemnation, may I gently invite the Opposition to reflect on three points: why we have a beef ban in the first place; which party was in power when it was imposed; and, if the lifting of the beef ban is such an easy thing to achieve, why the previous Government did not achieve it? I invite Conservative Members to think back to their "beef war" against Europe, to consider whether it successfully advanced our national interests and to consider whether the approach adopted by the present Government is more likely to succeed in advancing the interests of British agriculture. I shall not press the point any harder than that, but everyone— especially objective observers—will be able to draw his or her own conclusions.

Photo of Mr Christopher Gill Mr Christopher Gill Conservative, Ludlow

We do not need time to think about it. The fact is that, at the time of the general election, the Labour party said, "Give us control and we shall solve all these problems at the stroke of a pen," but that has not happened. I am sure that the Labour party has learnt a great deal during the past 18 months, not least that ending the beef ban is not just a matter of going to Brussels on a charm offensive.

The Minister is up against the same problems that faced the Conservative Government in negotiating the end of the beef ban and it has taken him a long time to achieve what he has so far achieved. The question to which we and the industry want to know the answer is, why on earth have the Labour Government not ended the ban already, given the promises that they made 18 months ago?

Photo of Nick Brown Nick Brown Secretary of State for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Minister of State (Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food)

Give us another fortnight, at least. The fact is that the British electorate listened carefully to what the Labour party had to say during the last election and decided to give us a chance to do a range of things, including lifting the beef ban. The truth is that we are making some progress. If ending the ban was so easy, the previous Government should have done it. Instead, their war with our partners in the European Union persuaded all 14 of them to gang up against the UK and, when the Conservatives asked the electorate what they thought of that, the electorate responded. My hon. Friends and I are the beneficiaries of that response, as are the Liberal Democrats.

Photo of Mr Paul Tyler Mr Paul Tyler Liberal Democrat, North Cornwall

As a totally objective observer, may I say that we Liberal Democrats warmly welcome the Government's approach in this respect? It is clearly far more constructive and it is delivering results; however, there is a long way to go. We should not raise great hopes of opening the market door to Europe, because the prices there are so low that that will not be of great help to us. The prices in the rest of the world, where we held some extremely valuable markets, are as important. As the door starts to open and the ban is removed, will the Minister and his officials consider seriously those third-country markets?

Photo of Nick Brown Nick Brown Secretary of State for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Minister of State (Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food)

I hope that I made it plain that I want British foodstuffs back on world markets and want there to be no health impediment to British agriculture products and those products to be regarded as excellent on world markets. That is my ambition for this country and I intend to make remorseless progress towards achieving that.

Photo of Nick Brown Nick Brown Secretary of State for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Minister of State (Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food)

Once more, then, in fairness to other hon. Members, I must draw my remarks to a conclusion and allow others to speak.

Photo of Owen Paterson Owen Paterson Conservative, North Shropshire

I am grateful to the Minister for giving way a second time. If he does not get satisfaction from our European partners with the techniques that he is using, will he take the case of Britain's beef farmers to the European Court?

Photo of Nick Brown Nick Brown Secretary of State for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Minister of State (Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food)

I am content to continue to conduct negotiations in the way that I am currently conducting them and I believe that my approach will be justified by the outcome. I have carefully considered the opposite approach, which is to threaten people. I believe that, at one stage, the previous Conservative Government started to use the mechanisms of the European Court and got thrown out, so I am not overwhelmingly attracted to the approach adopted by the previous Government. I am willing to learn, and what I have learnt is not to do it their way, but to make steady progress using my own approach.

Let me try to draw this consensus together. I welcome the part of the Conservative party's motion that "applauds the achievements of British farmers", and add my applause. I regard it as wholly unnecessary and destructive to try to set one sector of the economy against another, or to isolate rural Britain from the rest of the country. We are one country and it is not necessary to set up artificial divisions. I, too, want there to be "a thriving rural economy" and "a viable agricultural industry". I agree that British farmers should compete in an open market "on equal terms" with others.

That brings me to the Opposition's fair deal for farmers. One of its key points is to take a stand against unfair competition. I hope that the Opposition and the whole House will welcome the agreement that I reached yesterday with the British Retail Consortium that supermarkets will not sell imported meat processed in the UK under a British label. A major source of grievance for livestock sectors, particularly the pig industry, has been that meats can be imported, packaged and described as British. The major retailers have assured me that they will not do that. They have assured me also that, from 1 January 1999, all pigmeat sold in their outlets will be from animals raised to high welfare standards, with no stalls and tethers and no meat and bonemeal feedstuffs. Those who follow these matters know what I am describing. That will help to achieve the recognition that I want for the high welfare standards that British producers apply.

I want the European Commission to investigate in full today's press reports of new state aids elsewhere in the EU and to take the appropriate action if those prove to be contrary to EU law.

I am asked to cut the burden of regulation. I tell the House bluntly that I am not willing to compromise on food safety: food safety comes first, and it is in the interests of British producers that it does. I am willing to discuss with the farming industry the information that we collect from farmers and the form in which we request it and to consider whether there is a better way of doing so. The Government have, of course, considered those issues before. I intend to have the whole issue re-examined by specialist advisers. However, regulations are there for a purpose, and undermining public confidence in the regulatory regime by seeking short-term gain is not the right way forward for the industry.

On public purchasing policy, I am pleased with the outcome of my meeting yesterday with the British Retail Consortium and the outcome of the negotiations that we have been having with the Ministry of Defence.

We can be proud of animal welfare standards in this country. British consumers should be able to identify meat products that have been reared to the highest British animal welfare standards.

Allegations are often made that the supermarkets are taking advantage of low producer prices, but not passing them on to the consumer or, indeed, the farmer. The Office of Fair Trading is rigorously examining supermarket pricing. In the meantime, I am working to draw the whole food chain into co-operative working arrangements. The key point is that each part of the industry needs the others. The debate should not be characterised by villains and victims.

Photo of Nicholas Winterton Nicholas Winterton Conservative, Macclesfield

The Minister is making an excellent speech, which has defused the situation and will be welcomed by the farming industry. However, I am sure that he is aware that, last month, the National Westminster bank published a report revealing that, if the current crisis continues, 25,000 farmers— 15 per cent. of the total—will be driven out of agriculture. That is a serious prospect. Who will maintain the land? Does the Minister believe that his announcements today will do anything to stop the haemorrhaging from the land of those who produce our food?

Photo of Nick Brown Nick Brown Secretary of State for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Minister of State (Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food)

I accept that the situation is serious, which is why I am trying to flag up the need for a further announcement, which I will make soon. The purpose of today's announcement is not to lift the whole burden of the present difficulties from the industry's shoulders. I cannot do that; no one in my position could. I can intervene proportionately so that the industry can survive the present difficulties. I acknowledge that there is a crisis in the pig industry. I cannot arrange for everyone to survive. I can work constructively with all the parties and point to alternative ways forward. I can encourage, explain and provide support, but I cannot stand against the broad tide of events, and it would not be sensible to do so.

The industry is experiencing a period of change and restructuring. I do not want the present difficulties to accelerate that process so that we are not the masters of our own destiny. I am determined that British agriculture not only survives but has a good, sustainable future. The shape of that future is the subject of a different debate, and I cannot say that in 10 years absolutely everything will be as it is now. All I can do is set the parameters for the marketplace and let people make their own judgments. I can also ensure that change is driven not by short-term difficult circumstances but by the long-term passage of events, including the liberalisation of markets.

The Opposition motion criticises the Government's approach to the countryside. Agriculture is only one part of the rural community, but it remains crucial and the whole appearance of the countryside is dependent on it. The Government recognise the special needs of those who live and work in rural areas. We have provided an extra £50 million for rural transport, new rate relief for village shops, extra protection for rural schools and financial support for remote dispensing pharmacists. That sits alongside our commitment to viable United Kingdom agriculture.

Under the previous Government, the Rural Development Commission recorded the following facts: 83 per cent. of rural parishes were without a general practitioner; 73 per cent. had no daily bus service; 49 per cent. were without a school; 43 per cent. were without a post office; and 42 per cent. did not have a permanent shop.

The Opposition urge me to extend the calf processing aid scheme.

Photo of Tim Yeo Tim Yeo Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

If the Minister is concerned about the deprivation described by the Rural Development Commission, will he tell us whether he has asked the Deputy Prime Minister to reverse last year's cut in the revenue support grant—the cash given to councils in rural areas?

Photo of Nick Brown Nick Brown Secretary of State for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Minister of State (Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food)

The hon. Gentleman will remember from his time in office that government is seamless, and he should address his question to the appropriate Minister, but I shall pass on his comments to my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister and urge him to treat them appropriately.

I turn now to a policy for which I am responsible—the calf processing aid scheme, which is scheduled to end at the end of the month. The scheme distorts the calf market, forcing prices up at a time when beef finishers' margins are low. Its continuation could result in a shortage of home-produced beef on the UK market in the medium term. After 30 November, most EU member states will be making no contribution to the reduction of EU beef surpluses. However, farmers—mainly dairy farmers— have pressed for the continuation of the scheme until we have more normal market conditions. I am carefully considering that request, but the animal welfare lobby and the abattoir operators—I acknowledge that they make an unlikely combination—have welcomed the decision to close the scheme.

It is not fair to suggest, as the Opposition motion does, that the Government are not committed to farming in the hills. More than £600 million has been distributed to hill farmers this year alone. The Government have always provided support for hill farmers. I intend to do so, as well as considering what further help we may offer. In the short term, I shall do what I can. I intend also to ensure that hill areas receive continuing support as part of the Agenda 2000 package and beyond.

The autumn review is well under way. It is important to remember that hill support is a structured measure, not a measure to top up shortfalls in income. The Opposition motion is misleading on hill support. It refers to returning hill livestock compensatory allowances to 1993 levels. The Conservative Government dramatically cut them in 1994. The severely disadvantaged area payment for cows was £63.31 in 1993, and the Conservatives reduced it to £47.50 in 1994.

Let me correct another misunderstanding. It was said at our last parliamentary Question Time, or perhaps in the Liberal Democrat Opposition day debate, that an additional amount was paid in 1997. That is true, but it was a supplement, from a separate one-off European Union scheme, counteracting the market effects of BSE. It was available throughout the European Union.

The motion urges me to take up agrimonetary compensation. I make it clear to absolutely everyone that aid is not just there for the taking. The agricultural monetary structures are permissive. Operation of the United Kingdom's budget abatement means that the UK Exchequer bears about 71 per cent. of the cost of EU-refunded aid. If anyone thinks that those arrangements are unfair, I remind them that the arrangements are a direct result of the Fontainebleau agreement, negotiated by the Conservative Government.

The possibility of agrimonetary compensation for United Kingdom farmers was first approved by the European Union Agriculture Ministers in March 1997. Whatever the Opposition say now, the Conservative Government made no commitment at the time to pay such compensation. The only tranche that has ever been paid was paid by my predecessor.

I have the matter under consideration. The hon. Member for South Suffolk is right to ask me about that point. I am considering it, but, as he knows, I have to discuss with others in the Government.

Photo of Nick Brown Nick Brown Secretary of State for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Minister of State (Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food)

I should draw my remarks to a close, if only to let others in to the debate. Although I have been generous in giving way, it is not really fair to the House to extend my speech and thus keep other hon. Members out of the debate. However, I shall give way to the hon. Gentleman.

Photo of James Paice James Paice Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

On the subject of the previous Government not taking up any agrimonetary compensation, does the Minister agree that not a single agricultural product for which a common agricultural policy regime exists is making anything like the price that it made under the previous Government, and that that is why it was unnecessary for the previous Government to take up that compensation?

Photo of Nick Brown Nick Brown Secretary of State for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Minister of State (Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food)

That is not the only purpose of the agrimonetary regime, although the present Government accept that, in some circumstances, there is a case for drawing down within the permissive regime. That is why my predecessor did it, and that is why I have the matter under active consideration. My only point—a narrow political one—is that the regime was in place under the previous Government and they did not take advantage of it. There may be a range of reasons for that, but for the Opposition to urge it on us and not to have done it themselves sits them in a less happy position than they might think they find themselves in.

Photo of Nick Brown Nick Brown Secretary of State for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Minister of State (Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food)

No. I have an enormous respect for the hon. Gentleman and I again acknowledge the part that he plays in these matters, but I have given way to him twice. I understand that the House wants to question me and explore matters with me, which is why I have given way as freely as I have, but, in fairness to others who want to take part in the debate, I should now draw my remarks to a close and let others in.

The part of the Opposition motion that I wish to address is the reference to "underspends on the agriculture budget". Believe me, if I could get my hands on an underspend and I was free to make an announcement now, I would do so. There is no pot of money waiting to be redistributed. The motion refers to annually managed expenditure and the difference between forecast expenditure and outturn as a demand-led budget.

I note that the hon. Member for South Suffolk is calling for more money to be spent under that heading, and I know that he must have cleared that with the shadow Chancellor. I must clear any money that I want to spend with the real Chancellor, and I wonder how the hon. Gentleman can square the demand that much more money be spent in the agriculture sector with the more general approach of the shadow Chancellor, which is that the Government are spending too much money already and should cut expenditure.

I hope that I have dealt with the Opposition's arguments. I have explained my approach. The Government amendment provides a more rational way forward for United Kingdom agriculture, a way that will allow a viable UK agriculture—a broader rural economy—to play its proper, dynamic role in the United Kingdom economy. I commend the amendment to the House.

Several hon. Members:


Photo of Michael Martin Michael Martin Deputy Speaker (First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

Before I call the next hon. Member, I remind the House that Madam Speaker has ruled that there will be a 10-minute limit on speeches.

Photo of Peter Luff Peter Luff Chair, Agriculture Committee, Chair, Agriculture Committee 8:34 pm, 4th November 1998

It is a great privilege and pleasure to follow the Minister after his ministerial debut in a debate in the House as Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. It was, by any standards, a fine speech, and we are grateful for it. Obviously, from the Minister's viewpoint, the policy of killing with kindness now applies, not just to animal welfare campaigners and abattoirs, but to the House of Commons. He has shown the House the courtesy that he showed to the Select Committee on Agriculture last week when he appeared before it, and we should all be grateful to him for that.

The Minister's analysis is entirely sound. I hope that the judgment of the agriculture community will be the same for him as it will be for me—not at all bad for a townie. We both have that in common. He has shown great understanding of the issues, but he would agree— the thrust of his speech shows that he would certainly agree—that understanding is no substitute for action. The time is coming quite fast when action will be expected of him. Today he showed some areas where welcome action has already been taken.

The Minister has identified the very strange consensus that exists, not only in the House, but outside it, throughout the agricultural community, about the long-term direction that we must take for British farming—liberalised markets and an end to production-linked subsidies. On that we can all agree.

I believe that the Minister understands that, to achieve that objective, the Government cannot simply sail into the wind—like a supertanker—toward that Utopian and very desirable goal, but will have to behave rather like a clipper, tacking with the wind in seeking to achieve that objective. That means that there is no inconsistency in providing short-term help to farming now, to help it to arrive at that long-term goal. The Minister will have to behave rather less like the Exxon Valdez and rather more like the Cutty Sark, but I think he understands that. He has certainly proved pretty good at pouring oil on to troubled waters today.

However, there is a real recession out there—a real crisis facing agriculture. As the whole House now understands, that crisis is unique in that it now extends to every sector of farming. When Farmers Weekly regularly publishes the telephone number of the Samaritans, obviously something is seriously wrong. I know from farmers in my constituency, in Worcestershire, about the extent of the problems that they are facing. My hon. Friend the Member for Faversham and Mid-Kent (Mr. Rowe) sent me a letter from one of his arable farmers. It says: "According to my costing of last year's harvest, it cost us £68 per ton to grow wheat which we are now selling at £68 per ton, last year it was selling at £85 per ton. Our peas, last year, were selling at £102 per ton, this year at £68 per ton".

Obviously, the situation is exceptionally serious. Farm prices after inflation are lower than they were in the 1970s. I hope that the decision of the Select Committee on Agriculture to launch an investigation of the problems facing the pig industry will help by highlighting some of the problems, perhaps enabling us to learn lessons for other sectors.

The Government must face up to four categories of problem in dealing with the crisis confronting British agriculture. Obviously, the first is the international dimension—the broader economic questions. Yes, there are very big international problems out there, and they have affected some sectors of fanning especially acutely. The Russian crisis has imposed an especially severe problem on pig farmers. The far eastern crisis has been a particularly severe problem for chicken farmers. The problems are real.

In most farmers' minds, the overriding factor must be the strength of sterling. Although there have recently been some weakening of sterling and green pound revaluations, which are welcome, sterling is still strong.

I sincerely hope that the Minister will be able to persuade the Chancellor to draw down the agrimonetary compensation—£48 million for beef farmers, and £89 million for arable farmers. Although nothing is available for sheep farmers, I hope that the Minister will be able to get the compensation that is available, as it will provide a very important symbol of the Government's determination to help farmers.

The second category of problem comprises the self-imposed wounds that have nothing to do with broader economic issues. Although some might say that, because of the Chancellor's decisions, the strength of sterling is partly a self-imposed wound, as Committee Chairman, I must be careful not to be too partisan in my remarks. Nevertheless, there are other self-imposed wounds.

I think that the beef-on-the-bone ban was a self-imposed wound, making it more difficult for the Minister to make the progress that he has made in having the ban lifted. At one stage, it seemed as if the price of lifting the beef export ban would be a permanent, Brussels-imposed beef-on-the-bone ban. Although the Minister seems to have escaped paying that price, his task was made more difficult.

Photo of Nick Brown Nick Brown Secretary of State for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Minister of State (Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food)

I did not escape it alone, as much hard work was put in by British officials—Foreign Office officials and my Department's officials—in persuading the Commission to separate the date-based export scheme from another proposal on specified risk material that might have been included in the scheme. It is a very important point for the domestic industry, as the hon. Gentleman is right to mention.

Photo of Peter Luff Peter Luff Chair, Agriculture Committee, Chair, Agriculture Committee

I am happy to pay tribute to officials in the Minister's Department, who sometimes get a raw deal in contending with difficult situations. I am grateful to them.

The progress that we are making is part of a continuum. I cannot help but notice that the veterinarians who voted today against lifting the ban included some of the Government's most socialist friends in Europe—Germany, France and Spain, who all cast their votes against lifting the ban. In the constructive dialogue, perhaps the traditional friends of the Conservative party down the years, such as Denmark, have been more sympathetic to our case. Although I wonder how much the programme of constructive engagement has shifted the balance, I think that our argument is beginning to get through, which essentially demonstrates the continuum from the previous Government to the current one.

The problems of the beef industry will not be solved simply because the beef export ban is lifted. I worry that the public at large believe that ending the ban will be a cure-all. It will not be a complete cure, as huge problems will remain. I also hope that the Minister will be able to find some money to help beef farmers regain their lost export markets, both inside Europe and, as many hon. Members have often said, outside Europe—in South Africa, for example. I am delighted to hear the Minister's very strong hints—his dance of the seven veils—on the calf processing aid scheme. It seems fairly clear that there will some type of successor scheme, which will be welcome. A successor scheme will be welcomed not least on welfare grounds.

There are many "level playing field" issues that lie within the Minister's control. He mentioned Government buying policies. I cannot imagine any other European Union member state that would be quite as transparent and open as we have been. I hope that he will continue putting pressure on the Ministry of Defence. Although he has been successful on beef, more progress on lamb is necessary. I hope that he will put pressure on local education authorities, too—consistent, of course, with local decision making—to try to encourage them to take a more enlightened view.

I hope that the Minister will reconsider his Department's thoughts on imposing charges on farmers. Although I understood his comments on the safety and security of the food chain—one must respect that concern—I hope that he will not impose charges, as his Department's expenditure plans currently forecast, for use of the British cattle movement service, for example, unless he is convinced that other EU member states levy equivalent charges. We must not unnecessarily handicap our farmers.

I was encouraged by the Minister's comments on welfare standards, on which he has made some good progress. Nevertheless, battery egg producers are concerned about the implications of some Government statements. Producers are worried and are in a difficult position. The consequence of an immediate ban on battery cages would almost certainly be massive imports of American eggs that are produced in conditions that are much worse than those in the UK. We must be very careful when addressing such "level playing field" issues.

We must be particularly careful about new and unnecessary burdens, such as a pesticide tax. I am concerned about suggestions coming from one Department, to the effect that farmers randomly pour pesticides on their fields. That is nonsense. Pesticides are a very expensive input, which farmers certainly do not want to use unnecessarily. Moreover, imposing a tax will not control pesticide use but will only be another burden on British farmers.

The third issue is the problem with the food chain. I was encouraged again to hear the Minister's comments on his discussions with supermarkets. I should say that I have been unconvinced by supermarkets' claims and did not find Tesco's London Economics report particularly convincing. There is no doubt that meat sales are contributing substantially to those supermarkets' overheads.

I noted that, between August 1996 and August 1998, according to the National Farmers Union, farmers' share of retail prices for bread has declined from 18 to 13 per cent.; for pork from 57 to 33 per cent.; for milk from 42 to 34 per cent.; and for poultry from 46 to 30 per cent. Farmers are receiving less from the proceeds of lower prices, which must be a matter of great concern. I hope that the Minister will consider convening a summit of all those in the food chain—including farmers, hauliers, abattoirs, processors, manufacturers, retailers and even consumers—to discover whether the problem cannot be dealt with once and for all, as it has been a running sore for all of us.

The fourth and final category are the "mood music" issues, in which the Government seem to demonstrate a failure to understand the countryside. The Minister claimed credit for rate relief for shops. I have to inform him that the previous Government took that policy decision and passed that Act of Parliament. Credit for that rests entirely with the Conservative party. I lobbied for it intensely, spoke on the Bill, and we got the measure through. I am glad that the Government did not abandon it, but it is our policy.

Attempts to ban hunting, sabre rattling over the right to roam, penalising rural motorists, closing facilities in market towns—I have lost my benefits office, and my magistrates court and county court have been threatened; my income tax office is threatened, which some may say is a good thing, but we still appreciate the service—these are all bad measures. New house building in the countryside cannot easily be dismissed. My constituency faces a new town of 5,000 homes as a result of the Government's failure to translate their targets for brown-field land into local county structure plans. The standard spending assessment will be an important test when those decisions are announced next month.

The Minister has lent a sympathetic ear to farmers and they are grateful to him. As he did at our Select Committee last week, he has offered warm words. The time has now come when he must also lend a helping hand.

Photo of Mrs Diana Organ Mrs Diana Organ Labour, Forest of Dean 8:44 pm, 4th November 1998

On Monday evening as I was leaving my constituency to come to London I passed Westbury village hall and saw a notice that said "NFU Crisis Meeting". I know that the National Farmers Union has internal difficulties, but it was fairly obvious that the meeting was about the crisis facing farmers in the Forest of Dean. All sectors face unprecedented difficulties, as the hon. Member for Mid-Worcestershire (Mr. Luff) has just explained.

On 6 October, I met a group of local farmers who told me about farmers who were either selling up or having to get out of farming. One said that in the past five years he had made a major investment to improve his herd stores and welfare standards, but that he could not even consider carrying out the second necessary stage of investment in his milking parlour and storage. Another farmer came to my surgery on Friday. He was desperate and said that he was now on family credit and did not know how he could continue through the winter.

The shadow Minister referred to the Farmers Weekly article about suicides among farmers. I am concerned for farmers' well-being. Suicide rates among farmers are high and we do not want them to get worse. The businesses that face difficulties are a vital part of our rural economy as they support village shops and other local businesses. Farmers in the Forest of Dean welcome my right hon. Friend's determination and commitment to listen and talk to farmers, and I thank him for taking time out in his busy schedule next week to visit the south-west to hear more at first hand about the problem.

I welcome the Government's recognition of the seriousness of the problem and the great efforts that my right hon. Friend and his predecessor have made to lift the export ban on British beef. That is good news for farmers and the whole country. They will welcome today's decision by the European Union Standing Veterinary Committee. A simple majority was in favour of allowing the date-based export scheme to go ahead. We hope that the vote will be similar in the Agriculture Council.

In response to the grave difficulties that face the agricultural sector, will the Minister consider a short-term package of relief? That is suggested not by me but by local farmers who are under duress. It is not only for the farmers themselves, but for the wider rural economy in the Forest of Dean. Although in rural constituencies such as mine agriculture is a small part of the total economy, it underpins many other activities in the area.

The calf processing scheme is due to end on 30 November. Will the Minister look seriously at that, not only because it provides short-term assistance but because farmers have raised with me their concerns about animal welfare, should the scheme cease?

I welcome the Government's recent announcement of an additional £1 million investment to boost the countryside stewardship scheme, which delivers environmentally friendly farming. The scheme is very popular and oversubscribed. The extra funding will be concentrated on the upland areas of England. My local farmers, who are from low grassland areas, want an extension for lowland areas as well.

Will my right hon. Friend look again at agrimonetary compensation, particularly for the livestock sector? We have done it once and should do it again. I recognise that there are substantial public expenditure implications, but I am sure that the British taxpayer would be prepared to take the burden of that cost to help rural communities. The £85 million that was paid to suckler cow and sheep producers in January 1998 was much needed and welcomed by farmers. I hope that the Government are examining the case for further assistance this year.

As part of the support that the Government give to agriculture, may we ask for more assistance in helping the beef sector back into European markets when the ban is lifted? It is not going to be easy to get back into those markets. Will my right hon. Friend also look at a programme of wider guidance and training, with other marketing initiatives, to help farmers to set up as a co-operative, so that they can have greater strength when they negotiate with retailers and can be price setters, not price getters?

Lastly, a much voiced grudge of local farmers in my area is the uneven burden of regulation that they face, which does not have to be borne by import producers. The standard that the Government set is understood by farmers. They know that it produces good quality, wholesome and safe products for consumers and gives us good welfare standards, but surely we must ensure fairness; supermarkets must make it clear to consumers that the goods that they buy are of an equal standard.

In the long term, the real solution is reform of the common agricultural policy and Agenda 2000, with its emphasis on an integrated rural development policy, but at present we face a real crisis in the Forest of Dean and throughout the country. The crisis is being dealt with by the Government because they will not treat farming communities of the 1990s in the despicable way in which the previous Government treated mining and shipbuilding communities of the 1980s.

This Government are concerned about urban and rural communities. They are concerned about farmers— primary producers—as well as high-tech businesses. I thank the Minister for his support and efforts so far for the farmers of the Forest of Dean.

Photo of Charles Kennedy Charles Kennedy Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) 8:51 pm, 4th November 1998

In contributing briefly to this Conservative-moved debate, may I also welcome and congratulate the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food on his debut full-speech performance, as it were. As we know, over the past few months, with characteristic patience, he has taken time to do a lot of listening. Tonight, we got an extended chance to listen to him. Hon. Members on both sides of the House could find much positive encouragement both in his approach and in his general political attitude to his ministerial responsibilities.

When I come back with one or two points later, perhaps the Minister will accept that I do so not simply for the sake of being critical in the parliamentary party political sense, but to try to be constructive, as he is still considering and arguing for a package of relief.

It was perhaps a bit of bad luck for the Conservatives that, on the day the motion came up, we had such a significant breakthrough at Brussels. They share the pleasure in that, but they would scarcely be politically human if they did not think that it was just a bit inconvenient. If it had happened tomorrow, they could have claimed that it was their motion that had put things over the edge from the Government's point of view, but there we are; no such luck.

However, it is important that all parties express their pleasure at the degree of progress that was achieved today. Without any shadow of doubt, it is a significant breakthrough; for once, the Government were giving a slightly underspun line in today's news bulletins. It marks an important step forward. Let us hope that, in due course, it leads to both the loosening and, ultimately, the complete lifting of the ban.

We are dealing with a Conservative motion. We had the chance to move ours only 10 days ago, so our amendment to the motion is just a complete restatement of what we were saying 10 days ago—unlike the Conservatives these days, our policy can remain consistent for 10 days. I notice that, in the earlier debate this afternoon, we got at least three different Conservative policies on some of the issues.

There is a difficulty in this debate. Clearly, in moving the motion, the Conservatives, after such a long continuous period in office, want the rest of us to suffer from collective amnesia. At the same time, they are having to fight old political battles themselves: battles which ended in such decisive defeat 18 months ago and will again end in decisive defeat if they go to the vote in the Division Lobby tonight.

It is breathtaking, given the importance of Europe to UK agriculture, that unlike the other two motions, that tabled by the Conservatives—who have considerable difficulties on the issues—does not mention the common agricultural policy, its reform and Agenda 2000. We cannot have a realistic debate about the future of British agriculture without referring to the common agricultural policy, its reform and the implications of that reform for domestic agriculture.

Given that there will be a move away from production subsidy towards rural development, with further diversification, conservation and environmental aspects being built in to countryside support as a whole, particularly farming support, it is vital that any British Government trying to help to shape the direction of policy should bring some credibility to the European negotiating table.

No Government can have that credibility unless they are committed to the European project and have something positive to say about its most important aspect, which is the single European currency, as the farming industry well understands. It is essential that we should make it clear in the signals that we send to Brussels and to the Commission, where the long-term decisions will be taken, that two UK political parties have that conviction of the long-term efficacy of the single market and the single currency—although we would like the Government to go further and faster than they are—and that one party is way out of step. It is little wonder that there is no reference to matters European in the Conservative motion, because the Conservatives have lost all internal conviction and all external credibility on those matters.

Photo of Charles Kennedy Charles Kennedy Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

We are debating a Conservative motion and it is right to look at the position of the Conservative party on the countryside and agriculture. I find it unbelievable that the Conservatives get so upset about the slightest scrutiny of their policies. That speaks volumes about the mess that they are in. If they want to come to the Floor of the House with proposals, they should expect them to be scrutinised. That is what we are doing.

Photo of Michael Martin Michael Martin Deputy Speaker (First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

Order. The hon. Gentleman has said that he is not giving way.

Photo of Charles Kennedy Charles Kennedy Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

I should like to make some suggestions about where the Government should go from here on the domestic matters that are within their control. First, there is the hill livestock compensatory allowance, which is under review. There has been a breathtaking call for a restoration to the levels paid shortly before they were cut by the previous Government. It was clear from last week's debate, when senior Labour Back-Bench voices were raised on the matter, that there is an all-party consensus on the issue. The Minister would do well to heed that fact, politically in the House and practically outside. There has been a disastrous collapse in incomes not just in the hill areas but in the lowlands. I hope that the Minister will respond positively and use the rapid administrative and financial injection that the HLCAs can provide.

Secondly, it is important that the Minister should do everything possible within the European rules to encourage beef marketing and promotion abroad. It is clear from the experience of Northern Ireland that it will be a slow process, even from the date when the ban is eventually gone completely. Although the Minister is correct to say that farmers must work together and co-operate, equally, he must give a co-operative boost to their efforts. If they deliver their side of the bargain, the Government should deliver theirs.

What the Minister said about his discussions yesterday with the British Retail Consortium was extremely encouraging. Product labelling and the behaviour of supermarkets must obviously be kept under the closest scrutiny. It is important that we do not let up on the supermarkets—not least while the jury is out on that all-important Office of Fair Trading report.

I do not want to break the 10-minute rule, so I shall leave the Minister with two specific recommendations. He spoke about bureaucracy and red tape, saying that he would not in any way surrender standards—and we agree. There is much bureaucracy and red tape in agriculture. Farmers all too often tell their Member of Parliament that they have faithfully tried to fill out the form but have not done so correctly. They are not trying to be corrupt or to abuse the system. They have often been given misleading or inaccurate advice locally over the telephone.

In too many such instances, the case cannot be referred to the ombudsman because it is not one of malpractice. Will the Minister consider the practice adopted for the Child Support Agency? As a result of the huge problems that have accumulated with the agency, about which we all, as constituency Members, know, a degree of independent trouble-shooting has been built into the system for cases not of political maladministration but, as common sense suggests, of clear individual injustice. The Government could do much to try to advance the matter in agriculture.

I refer the Minister to the days of the Lib-Lab pact, all those years ago. One of the concessions that the Liberals were able to influence the Labour Administration to make during a bad time for agricultural income was the introduction of a period of roll-over tax relief. I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Torridge and West Devon (Mr. Burnett) has been in correspondence with the Minister about the matter. Given the horrendous difficulties, will the Minister contact his old chum at the Treasury to see whether it might be responsive to the idea of roll-over tax relief—for, perhaps, three or five years— for UK agriculture? For many who are presently badly hit, such a device could even out the problems of their present trough, and, hopefully, maintain viability for the future. I see that the Chief Secretary to the Treasury is present; he will have heard that point.

I hope that the Minister and his Cabinet colleagues will accept our approach in the constructive spirit in which it is offered. I hope that we can continue to put so much of the past behind us, get through this undoubted crisis and begin in a more united and sensible way to build a better profile for British farming.

Photo of Martyn Jones Martyn Jones Labour, Clwyd South 9:02 pm, 4th November 1998

I represent many farmers who are in dire trouble. It is no coincidence that the first demonstrations against the import of Irish beef were in north Wales. I am very pleased, however, that that line of action is no longer the policy of the National Farmers Union and the Farmers Union of Wales—I do not suppose that it was actual policy—and that, with some good effect, farmers are trying to put their case through proper democratic procedures. I have had many meetings with farmers in my constituency, at which they have explained their difficulties.

One reason why farmers resorted to demonstration was that they were, to a certain extent, misled by the idea that there is a huge pool of agrimonetary compensation waiting to be dipped into. As has been made clear, certainly in debates in the House, the compensation is in tranches. The previous Minister for Agriculture, my right hon. Friend the Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham), gave as much as he could to the beef sector. I stand to be corrected, but I think that he gave 95 per cent. of available compensation to the beef sector, and 75 per cent. to the sheep sector.

We have heard the usual rubbish from the Opposition— although it is gratifying to hear about their conversion to state intervention in industry. I have not heard much about that from them in steel and coal debates, but things move on. We have not heard many apologies from them for the BSE problem, either.

I do not think that anyone in the debate so far has mentioned the fact that the price of milk has fallen drastically, partly because of the winding up of the Milk Marketing Board. Had it still been in existence, I do not think that there would have been such a problem.

We have not heard much about the strength of the pound, either, because it is now weaker than it was when we took power in May 1997. Milk, beef and lamb prices have been steadily dropping over the past two years; the graph is clear, and something has to be done.

The Welsh Affairs Select Committee looked into the crisis in the livestock industry. It took a slightly different tack from that taken by the Agriculture Select Committee, in that one of our evidence sessions, with the farming unions, suggested that there was a problem with supermarket pricing. It is strange, to say the least, that the price that the consumer pays in the supermarket does not seem to be dropping commensurately with prices in the cattle market.

All kinds of factors have to be taken into account, but from the evidence from the supermarkets, the meat processors and the catering sector, it was difficult to find out precisely what was happening with prices. We therefore recommended that the Office of Fair Trading investigate supermarket pricing, and I am delighted to say that it is doing so.

Photo of Mr Richard Livsey Mr Richard Livsey Liberal Democrat, Brecon and Radnorshire

As Chairman of the Welsh Affairs Select Committee, will the hon. Gentleman, like the rest of us on the Committee, urge the Government to ask the OFT to produce its report as soon as possible?

Photo of Martyn Jones Martyn Jones Labour, Clwyd South

I agree with the hon. Gentleman that that is essential. It is interesting to note that the supermarkets are now attempting to help. It might be churlish to suggest that they might not have helped if the Office of Fair Trading had not been breathing down their necks. However, I am a little cynical, and I suspect that that is a possible reason.

Another factor on which the Select Committee focused was immediate help. We are finding a consensus in the Chamber that some immediate help is needed. I believe that it should be targeted, and hill livestock compensatory allowances are a good way of reaching those who are most affected. That is the nature of the game. We need to help those people, because there is not a bottomless pit of money.

I wish my right hon. Friend the Minister well in his meeting with the Agriculture Ministers, and I hope that we achieve success there.

Photo of Nicholas Winterton Nicholas Winterton Conservative, Macclesfield 9:07 pm, 4th November 1998

I am sorry that the Minister of Agriculture has left his place, because I wanted to tell him that I found his speech reassuring. He has, however, given some hostages to fortune, and I hope that those are not called upon, because I hope that his speech has given some encouragement to the beleaguered farming industry.

To the Minister of State, who has remained on the Treasury Bench, I have to say that, in all my years in the House, I have never known a time when farming faced such severe challenges. Not only in Macclesfield but throughout the United Kingdom, as we have heard tonight, agriculture is in crisis.

The Minister admitted that, and he also said that the distinctive feature of the present difficulties is that virtually every branch of agriculture is affected at the same time. The public are aware of the problems in the beef industry, but on other fronts there is little consolation for our hard-pressed farmers. Cereal prices are down, pig producers are making losses, and dairy farmers are being driven out of business.

The hon. Member for Clwyd, South (Mr. Jones) was, I think, the first speaker in the debate to mention the reduction in the milk price. We have talked about the problems of hill farmers, and to my mind those are so severe that the very fabric of our cherished countryside is at risk.

According to a National Farmers Union survey, next year the average income on hill farms will fall below £8,000, compared with £12,000 last year. I do not need to tell hon. Members what that will mean to families on small farms across the land. The prospect is indeed dire.

A report from Deloitte and Touche in October predicted a 48 per cent. drop in farm incomes in the current financial year. Last year, United Kingdom farmers' incomes dropped by 56 per cent. That is a huge drop, whatever it is compared with. I am deeply worried. My instinct is to favour the small to medium-sized farm. Big is certainly not beautiful in my view, and it is therefore those farms to which support should be directed.

On top of that grim short-term outlook, there is uncertainty over the reform of the common agricultural policy with Agenda 2000; environmental pressures are growing; there is increasingly monopolistic buying power in the hands of the supermarkets, to which virtually every speaker so far has rightly referred; and there has been an explosion of public interest in food production and how that should be regulated. The latter matter could impose further financial burdens on farmers as well.

I do not suggest that all those difficulties have been caused by Governments—some have not—but what is certain is that the present Government appear to have shown a cavalier disregard for the concern of farmers, and a lack of understanding of their problems and the fears of the wider rural community. I say to the Minister that I hope that some of those fears, and what people perceive as that cavalier disregard, may now die away because of the sensitive way in which the Minister of Agriculture has tonight addressed the serious problems facing agriculture.

As the hon. Member for Clwyd, South said, 10 months ago, the traditional image of farming was shattered, when, a couple of weeks before Christmas, a group of north Wales fanners decided to take matters into their own hands and blockaded the port of Holyhead, throwing a consignment of Irish beef burgers into the sea. Such direct action was caused by frustration; the message was, "Enough is enough."

The United Kingdom beef industry has done everything that has been asked of it, and the United Kingdom has, I believe, met all the requirements of the Florence agreement. It is time for politicians across Europe to recognise that, and the efforts that have been made, and to lift the ban on beef exports, including—dare I say?—beef on the bone.

Let me make it clear: devastation was brought upon our beef industry not as a result of the previous Government, and not even as a result of the 18 months that this Government have been in power; it was entirely down to Euro-politics. It has paid our competitors in the European Union to have British beef banned, and the longer it is banned the better, for many of them.

Once highly profitable markets for our beef in European countries have been exploited by other nations. Those markets have now been lost to the United Kingdom, I believe for ever. Political interference by member state Governments to satisfy their own agendas must not be allowed to delay a decision for the complete lifting of the beef ban.

The hills and uplands play an important role in United Kingdom beef production, because almost 70 per cent. of the beef herd is in less-favoured areas. Hill livestock compensatory allowances are designed, as the Minister knows, to ensure the continuation of livestock farming in those areas, which is absolutely essential if they are to continue to be productive and to be farmed. What would happen to them if they were not farmed?

At this year's review of HLCAs, it is essential that full account be taken of the critical incomes situation. If the European Commission maintains its objection to the use of HLCAs to offset adverse income trends, the Government—as one of their supporters, the hon. Member for Forest of Dean (Mrs. Organ) has urged the Minister— should again use agrimonetary compensation to assist the less-favoured areas and the lowland beef areas.

As the Minister knows, the continuing strength of sterling is having a major impact on the beef sector. If the exchange rate of the pound against European currencies remains at current levels once the ban on beef exports is lifted, United Kingdom traders may still face severe difficulties in re-establishing a market that, at its peak, took about 28 per cent. of our beef.

I congratulate the Minister on facilitating the export of whole carcases of sheep over 12 months old to designated French abattoirs. That is a good move, and it has been warmly welcomed. It is also important that the number of designated French abattoirs is increased, because the inability to export whole sheep carcases has had a disastrous impact on sheep prices. Clearly, the implementation of bilateral agreements with France on sheep exports is necessary.

What is certain is that the Government's policy of deliberately maintaining a strong pound—for whatever reason—is crippling farmers as surely as it is destroying some of our manufacturers. The loss of a family farm that has provided a living for two or three people for generations may not make the headlines in many of the newspapers, as the closure of a large factory would, but for the men and women involved and the work they do, it is no less traumatic.

The cumulative effect on rural communities will be devastating unless there are some policy changes, with action and not merely words. Therefore, I call on the Government to fight the corner for the British farmer, not only in this country but in Europe. Sadly, the British farmer appears to be appreciated only in times of war or crisis. Farming is facing a crisis. Let the Government and the people give the industry the support it deserves.

Photo of Mr Alan Hurst Mr Alan Hurst Labour, Braintree 9:16 pm, 4th November 1998

I welcome the opportunity to speak in this debate, and to congratulate my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture on a speech that in many ways almost united the House, for a while at least. Even the hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Inverness, West (Mr. Kennedy) almost went along with the tripartisan feeling of unity that followed, which is to be welcomed.

Farmers, whatever their constituency, are not particularly interested in who did what, when and where, or in saying that that Government did this but another Government are doing something else. Farmers have jolly long memories—going back centuries—so they can certainly remember what has happened in the past 20 years in politics. However, that is not the issue.

The issue is that there are grave difficulties—I hesitate to say "a crisis", as we have been told that its use might be inadvisable—in British agriculture in the short term, and it faces grave risks in the long term. There is general agreement about the measures that my right hon. Friend the Minister has introduced or is hinting at, but they will not mean an end to the problems of British agriculture: I endorse the words of my hon. Friend the Member for Forest of Dean (Mrs. Organ) and her pleas.

I must cast some doubt on the wonders of the golden calf of the free market. I do not want to get into trouble by saying too much against it, or by not being seen to worship it fully, but we must understand that the sweeping of the free market through some parts of the world is one of the many factors that are harming British agriculture. Since economies are now globalised—a dreadful word—the collapse of economies in other parts of the world has an effect here, which permeates down to the farm at the bottom of the road. Unless we get reform of the common agricultural policy right as soon as we can, the free market will blow through our farms and create greater havoc than many of the diseases that have cursed our agriculture through the decades.

We must get the system of supports right, and I was grateful to hear Opposition Members saying so. Farmers will not care too much whether their incomes come from being the custodians of the land that they and their families have farmed for generations, or from raising crops or livestock.

Farmers want to be part of and contribute to the community in which they have lived for many years. If they are preserving our heritage, they should jolly well be paid for doing so. That would not be a subsidy; the rest of us would be paying farmers properly for doing what we want them to do for us. The sooner we move to such a system of support and away from the endless incentives to over-produce, the sooner we will get things right.

Time is not on our side, however, and it is certainly not on the side of the family farmer. We hear the word "restructuring" bandied about—hon. Members have spoken about it in the context of other industries—but restructuring can take a number of forms. I fear that it will take the form of the destruction of small farms and farms in poorer and remoter areas, with vast tracts of land being taken over by combines of organisations whose primary interest is land value, not land use.

We must search urgently for medium and long-term solutions to the problems that our farmers face. In agreeing on the immediate measures that need to be taken, we must not overlook the urgent need to act to retain the structure of rural Britain as we have known it for so long.

Photo of John Hayes John Hayes Conservative, South Holland and The Deepings 9:20 pm, 4th November 1998

The hon. Member for Braintree (Mr. Hurst), whom I am delighted to follow, was cautious about using the word "crisis". I shall be less so: agriculture is in crisis. The Minister is right to be careful about the use of language—exaggeration is not good for the industry—but it is inappropriate to understate the case. It is important that farmers understand that we appreciate the extent of their difficulties, so I am not hesitant about using the word "crisis", but I am not suffering under the same discipline as the hon. Member for Braintree.

Measured in any terms, agriculture is in crisis. The 56 per cent. fall in incomes over the past year, the level and cost of borrowing, and the fall in the price of products across the sectors all show that it is so.

I notice that the Liberal Democrat spokesman, the hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Inverness, West (Mr. Kennedy), and the hon. Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler) have not had the courtesy to stay to hear the debate. Their suggestion that what has been happening is part of a continuum or general trend is wholly untrue. There was a downturn in almost every sector in 1996, but, compared to what has happened in the past year to 18 months, that downturn was very small indeed. In the arable and livestock sectors, the real problems and the significant decline in incomes have been in the past 18 months.

It would be nonsense to pretend that this Government caused all that, but the scale of the crisis requires emergency action. It is inappropriate to point the finger at Conservative Members and the previous Government, because the current problems are of different proportions from those of two years ago, when it might have been legitimate to blame the Conservative Administration.

I was delighted by the tone of the Minister's remarks, which was in stark contrast to that of his predecessor. I am reminded of the maxim that, to get on, one must be very clever or very nice—the Minister has clearly opted for the latter course. I would say that perhaps the former course was not available to him, but that would be ungracious. The tone, however, is only part of the story. It is important that the Government are listening, but their listening must be backed by action that is, in the Minister's word, proportionate.

There is no question but that the Conservative party legitimately speaks for rural Britain; in psephological terms, it is the principal party of rural Britain. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Stroud (Mr. Drew) may wave his head about, but, if rurality is measured by a combination of agricultural employment and sparsity of population, the Labour party is the third party of rural Britain. It holds less than 20 of the 100 most rural seats. In England, it holds fewer than five of the 50 most rural seats. The Conservative party is the legitimate spokesman of the rural community, with the Liberals trailing some way behind.

It is also true that the Conservative party speaks up for rural Britain. We hope that the new Minister will be seen a little more diligent in attending conferences, visiting shows and mixing with farmers. His predecessor was not famed for that—he was notably absent from some major events in the farming calendar—and we hope for a change of emphasis as well as tone.

The Government must take some positive steps. It is important to emphasise that agriculture is different, and should be treated differently, from other industries. Rural Britain and agriculture are not synonymous—probably the majority of employment in my constituency is related to agriculture, although that is not true throughout the whole of rural Britain—but agriculture holds a special place, not only because of its custodianship of the land, as the hon. Member for Braintree said, but because of family connections, the long-standing nature of the businesses, and the contribution they make to the wider community. Rural and urban Britain should not be separated, but they require different solutions.

I agree that we should consider whether article 36 of the treaty of Rome could help us to create a "level playing field" in trade. We need to consider fresh marketing support, not only for the beef sector but for the whole industry. We should try to improve the advice and research available to farmers. Someone spoke in an earlier debate about farming our way out of the crisis. That cannot be the whole solution, but it can be a part of it. It is a source of shame that the Government have cut the agricultural research budget.

We need a package of aid. The Minister talked about keeping that in proportion. The proportions are there for him to see: I have already mentioned the fall in incomes and the scaling down of the industry. In response, we surely need a proportionate multi-million pound aid package.

Members of all parties on the Select Committee highlighted the fact that the Government seem to lack a strategic vision for agriculture. We need that long-term vision, as well as the short-term aid, if Britain's farmers are to be reassured that they have the support of the House in competing with other nations in feeding the world, as Britain has done in the past and will do again in the future.

Photo of Mark Todd Mark Todd Labour, South Derbyshire 9:27 pm, 4th November 1998

I want to do something that, I regret to have to say, for the Whips' benefit, is slightly unusual for me, and compliment my right hon. Friend the Minister on a thoughtful speech that drew out many of the consensual elements that exist in the House on the subject. He made this a much more positive and interesting debate than it would otherwise have been, and I warmly commend him for that. The farmers whom I represent have already told me how much they welcome his role and his listening function, and I am sure that hon. Members of all parties agree with that. The strategy remains much the same, but there was a need to listen and to learn, and I think that he has done that.

We should also welcome the progress that has been made on the beef ban. A critical further step in lifting it was taken today, but there is far, far more to do: we must get the ban lifted on beef off the bone, then beef on the bone, and then livestock. Beyond that, we need to win back the markets that we have lost. One of the critical issues, on which I would welcome a ministerial opinion, is whether we can assist our agricultural sector to win back those markets in the future. We have started to hear encouraging noises and a recognition of the problems that the industry faces. Now is the time to turn that into firm policy.

We should compliment the Government on persuading the retailers to adopt a clearer position on defending the strengths of British agriculture and being more honest with their consumers. That has required substantial work by the Government and a recognition by retailers of the strong public consensus on the matter. Both sides of the House should commend that.

Any steps that we take to put together a short-term package must be consistent with a long-term strategy. In dealing with the crises—I use the plural—that we have faced in farming, we have tended to look for short-term fixes and ways of supporting farmers into the next crisis that they will face in due course, instead of looking at the medium to long-term future of farming in Britain.

Hon. Members have implied that, for the first time ever, small farmers are winding up their businesses or transferring them to larger farmers, but that has been going on for decades, and will continue. I should be sorry if any steps that we took impeded the normal process of the market in moving towards more competitive units or more focused—[Interruption.] Hon. Members may disagree, but there is an alternative—more focused attention to niche markets or diversification in the use of farm assets.

We should encourage farmers to explore all those possibilities. We should not give temporary lifelines to businesses that have no honest long-term future. I say that baldly, as I have said it to the farmers whom I represent—10 days ago I spent three hours speaking to a dozen of them in my constituency. I do not have a habit of pulling punches with them, and I would not do so in the House. Some farmers are in unsustainable businesses and we must help them to find alternative uses for their assets or alternative occupations. We cannot fool people that they can maintain their businesses in the future as they have done in the past.

If we are to extend the calf processing scheme, which I believe should be extended, we must carefully balance that against the conditions that those producers will face in a freer—but not free—market, once the ban is lifted. We must recognise that that market is in surplus across Europe, which is a tough marketplace.

I empathise with those who say that we must scrutinise the relative costs of our regulatory regime. I do not question the animal health or food safety aspects of that regulation, but I question the cost burdens that are passed through the industry and whether our officials have learnt enough from the approach taken by other countries in tackling those tasks in an EU regime. I do not believe that we learn enough from other countries that have the same tasks as we have, but undertake them with greater efficiency and sensitivity.

Our longer-term strategy needs far more work. That strategy is the business of Government because we spend £4 billion a year supporting the sector, and we should be concerned about whether that money is well spent.

We have no obvious grasp of a rural development strategy. If by a miracle of miracles an agreement was struck tomorrow on Agenda 2000, and a large amount of money was transferred to rural development, we would have little idea of what to do with it. We have developed little thinking in that area. We were slow to take up the opportunity of objective 5b funding in rural areas. We will be similarly slow to take our opportunities on rural development.

We cannot hold off on development of a long-term strategy simply by saying that it is a matter of common agricultural policy reform. We have to serve our farming community and our citizens, and that obligation overrides others. We should be quite clear about our responsibilities. A long-term strategy is also the best way to persuade our European partners to reform their practices. If we have a clear vision of our own, we will be more persuasive.

We should also recognise fully that the strategy in Agenda 2000 will not succeed in the World Trade Organisation negotiations. We should own to our responsibility to look beyond those limited proposals towards what the marketplace for farming will be like in 10 years time. We have not yet done that thoroughly. The Government need to think carefully about how short-term measures, which are of course welcome, can be balanced with a long-term strategy that will be tough, but to which many positive, market-oriented farmers look forward with enthusiasm.

Photo of Mr William Thompson Mr William Thompson UUP, West Tyrone 9:36 pm, 4th November 1998

It is right that we should debate the tremendous crisis in the farming industry, highlighting the difficulties that farmers are going through. After the general election, I was surprised by the attitude of the Government. They seemed to be much against farmers. We were told that the Government had poured between £3 billion and £4 billion into the BSE crisis, that farmers had had enough money and that the Exchequer would not give them any more. The then Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food was fairly combative, and he seemed not to be very sympathetic to farmers.

The power of the Ministry seems to have reduced greatly. We seem to be under the control of Europe, which decides our agricultural policy. We can do little without the consent and approval of Europe. Unfortunately, the only power we seem to have is the power of persuasion. We seem unable to threaten, but merely to persuade. However, it would be churlish of me not to recognise the work done by the previous Minister on BSE, which resulted in the lifting of the export ban in Northern Ireland. Now that the ban has been lifted, though, we are recognising the difficulties of exporting beef. Markets have changed. There is a surplus of meat in Europe. The standards that must be met before beef is exported are high. It will be a long time before Northern Ireland exports the same percentage of beef as it did before BSE. We need a good marketing operation to persuade people that our beef is the best.

The farming crisis has hit Northern Ireland particularly badly because farming is our chief industry. The pig industry has been badly hit by the fire at Lovell and Christmas, where, overnight, the number of pigs that could go to the factory was reduced by 40 per cent. The situation in Northern Ireland is perhaps much worse than that on the mainland.

I welcome the change in the Government's approach. It seems that they have recognised that there is a serious farming crisis. That was noticeable this evening in the message given by the new Minister of Agriculture. I think that we would all agree that since he was appointed to his post he has spoken to farmers and has an appreciation of their needs and the difficulties that they face. We saw that sympathetic approach this evening.

It is always easy to argue against someone who is incompatible. It is more difficult to argue against someone who agrees with us all the time. The problem tonight is that the Government have agreed with everything that the Opposition have said. The Minister seems to agree that the various points that we have been making are true.

I welcome the Minister's speech, which drew a response from both sides of the House. We have promises that a range of proposals will be coming forward and that the calf processing aid scheme will be reconsidered and that various other things will be given careful consideration. We have promises and we have expectations. I am sure that the farming community will look forward to delivery of its expectations, and the sooner it comes, the better.

Photo of David Drew David Drew Labour/Co-operative, Stroud 9:41 pm, 4th November 1998

I had the opportunity last week to listen to Ben Gill, the president of the National Farmers Union, who came to talk to local farmers. The meeting took place in the constituency of the hon. Member for Cotswold (Mr. Clifton-Brown) but there were plenty of representatives from my constituency.

In quite a wide-ranging speech, Ben Gill made two key points and—this shows how things have changed—I almost entirely agreed with him. First, he said that if farmers were to look for reform they had to understand that value added had to start from the bottom up instead of the way in which the food chain now operates, which works downwards from the retailer's margin. Secondly, he said there must be much greater collaboration among farmers. Ben Gill would not attach the word co-operation to those aims although I would. Certainly there is a need for a new way of working.

Ben Gill's third point was particularly valid. Whether speaking on his own behalf or that of the NFU, he was quite worried about pressure from the United States in terms of the agri-chemical business and the changes that this is making to British agriculture. I share his misgivings.

As there is a shortage of time I shall merely add to the points made by Ben Gill and try to find solutions rather than continuing to analyse difficulties, crises and long-term problems. First, we must recognise that although we are much in favour of help in the form of environmental subsidies and aid, farming is still an important part of the rural economy. It must be recognised that there is such a thing as an economically sensitive area and provide support accordingly. That is so important in the context of tenant farmers and other farmers who are not necessarily from the wealthier end of the farming community.

Secondly, we must recognise—this goes back partly to the point made by Ben Gill last week—that farming must be put much more on a business footing. I have nothing but respect for the way in which farmers farm, but, from an outsider's perspective, I see the limited business experience that some farmers have and their genuine need for help in terms of training. In addition, we must look at ways in which markets could be made more easily accessible for farmers.

Thirdly, I am sure that hon. Members would agree that the centralisation of the food supply may have gone too far. Even though there have been advantages in that food standards, hygiene and safety have become paramount, we must recognise that food can be supplied locally. A localised food supply is not only what consumers appear to want, but represents a saving in transport costs and an increase in choice. If we can make progress on that, we might begin to arrive at long-term solutions to an extremely difficult short-term problem.

Photo of Owen Paterson Owen Paterson Conservative, North Shropshire 9:45 pm, 4th November 1998

The Secretary of State charmed us all with his speech and his generosity in taking interventions, but I fear that he has underestimated the seriousness of the crisis. An industry whose turnover has dropped from £4 billion to less than £1 billion in two years is, by any definition, in crisis.

Today at the Oswestry auctions, lambs were fetching as little as 61p per kilo on average—about half what they fetched two years ago—and one farmer told me that the sheep industry is "a total disaster". I should like to give the Government a few quick, practical measures that would be of immediate help to the sheep industry.

The farmer I spoke to said that "the Government had panicked about slaughtering costs". There is an abattoir near to my home that employs four meat inspectors, one vet and only four other employees. It sends a cheque every Monday morning for £3,880 to Chester. That is crazy. We must reduce those costs, which are a burden to all farmers. The Select Committee on Welsh Affairs reported on "The Present Crisis in the Welsh Livestock Industry" on 20 May, but we have yet to receive a reply from the Government. We were told that we would receive a reply just after the recess, but have not yet got one.

Finally on the subject of sheep, I acknowledge that the Government are good at spin and controlling publicity and ask them to address themselves to the dangers of maverick, publicity-seeking scientists bursting on to the radio waves and, with one or two sentences, causing severe damage to the livestock industry. That is what happened to the sheep industry in the summer.

Turning to the beef industry, there is a crisis. Good finished bullocks were fetching 75p to 78p per kilo today at Oswestry—way down on the £1.10 to £1.20 per kilo they were fetching a couple of years ago; and stores are making only £120. The future is bleak. In such a climate, it is crazy to consider abandoning the calf scheme. I was pleased by the Minister's equivocation on the point, because, on commercial and animal welfare grounds, some form of the scheme must continue. Before arbitrarily ending it, a way out must be considered, so I suggest that the Minister reads this week's Farmers Guardian, which contains an interesting article about the potential veal market on the continent.

Hon. Members on both sides expressed doubt about our ability to reopen the beef market. One exporter in Inverurie had a substantial business: a third of his turnover—£14 million to £15 million—came from exports to Holland, Italy and France. I stress that the meat was almost entirely beef on the bone. That exporter said today: "They know that what they are getting from the rest of Europe is rubbish. They want British beef for quality. Australia, New Zealand and southern Ireland do not compare. Prior to the BSE crisis, he had a £42 million turnover, but that figure is now down to £30 million. He reckons that he could get at least one truck per week back tomorrow if the beef ban could be lifted.

We have heard good news today, but we have yet to see any practical gains. I appeal to the Government to threaten our EU partners with a return to the European Court if they fail to lift the ban, because it is rank hypocrisy to continue it. We in this country have taken the measures needed to make our meat safe and the response has not been good enough. From British cattle exported in the past five years, the Germans should have picked out 285 cases of BSE, but they have picked out only five. We know that there are now no human or animal health grounds for banning British beef.

Photo of Owen Paterson Owen Paterson Conservative, North Shropshire

It is entirely politics, as my hon. Friend says.

In the dying two minutes of my speech, I turn briefly to milk, where there is also a crisis. Milk prices are down to 18p or 19p a litre. I am delighted that the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food has returned to hear that farmers reckon to break even when they are receiving between 14p and 18p. A 4p quota on top of that price means that they cannot make money. The money tied up in quota would far better be invested in ring parlours and modern equipment so that we can compete with countries such as New Zealand and Argentina, where milk production has increased by 28 and 36 per cent. respectively in the same time that European production has marginally dwindled. A large dairy farmer in my constituency said: "Quotas are holding Europeans back as we are in a supply-controlled economy.

When the Minister replies, will he clarify the Government's view on the end of milk quotas in the Agenda 2000 reforms?

Photo of Mr Patrick Nicholls Mr Patrick Nicholls Conservative, Teignbridge 9:50 pm, 4th November 1998

Only the shortness of time prevents me from being able to refer to each of the 11 excellent speeches by Members on both sides of the House. It says something about the way in which we conduct our affairs that it is possible to say that.

It is clear that the industry is in crisis. The Country Landowners Association has told us that upland farmers are earning substantially less than £10,000 a year. Letters from the Tenant Farmers Association tell us that hill fanners are making less than £7,000 a year. In the west country, where I come from, The Western Morning News is full of examples—for which I give it full credit—of people living in the most dire circumstances. A report commissioned by that newspaper reveals that the average fanning enterprise in the west country is made up of a husband, wife and full-time working son, who will work between them more than 140 hours a week, for which the average return is about 85p an hour—way below any average minimum wage.

Such figures make one realise that the industry is in crisis and given the financial havoc that that wreaks on farming families, it is small wonder that the Farmers Weekly, as several hon. Members have mentioned, last week discussed not money and the prices of food or cereal, but farmers who are driven to the verge of desperation. I have never before seen an editorial in a farming magazine putting out the number for the Samaritans. That is no idle comment because it is obvious to anyone who reads the agricultural press that farming suicides occur about once a week. That is the measure of the crisis in British agriculture.

Conservative Members have never made the case that the crisis started on 1 May last year. The indictment has never been that the Government are to blame; it is that the crisis was manifest and the Government were not acting.

I pay due credit to the way in which the Minister has spoken tonight. Mood music matters, and the right hon. Gentleman's approach is in marked contrast to that of the Secretary of State for Health, who at a rural health forum last week contemptuously dismissed the idea that it was necessary to put any money into a study on rural deprivation.

The Minister has come across as an absolute sweetie tonight, but he has been in control for the past three months and he could in the first three hours have lifted the ban on beef on the bone. Soft music matters, but the Government have presided over the beef ban longer than the previous Conservative Administration. The conditions set down in Florence were met even before the previous election. Developments only last week, when the Commission took action on the BSE crisis in Portugal, will give cover to those in Europe who want to ensure that even now the beef ban is not lifted. The Minister should consider the way in which tallow has been treated recently. We are still waiting for a visit from the Commission to consider our arrangements on that. He will understand why I am not convinced that we are standing on the threshold of an instant lifting of the ban.

On agrimonetary funds, my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg) made it clear that if circumstances changed he would certainly revisit the debate. It is common ground that the situation has changed.

I commend the Minister of Agriculture. There is no doubt that he has tonight conceded the case that has been constantly made by Conservative Members. Moreover, he has accepted many of the measures that we set out in "Fair Deal for Farmers".

We need to study the detail. I note what the Minister said about arrangements that he has reached with supermarkets, but he said nothing about food produced by means that would be illegal in this country. I therefore tell the Minister that we shall want another debate soon. We shall want a debate in Government time to allow us to examine carefully the measures that he intends to bring before the House.

By standing four square by the country community, the Conservative party has produced this change of heart. I say to the Minister: the jury is out on the Minister of Agriculture. I commend him for having the humility to admit that the jury is out, but we shall return to the subject.

Photo of Mr Jeff Rooker Mr Jeff Rooker Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Minister of State (Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food) 9:54 pm, 4th November 1998

In the short time available—for which I do not apologise, as in last week's debate I spoke for 40 minutes with a dozen interventions—I praise my right hon. Friend the Minister's tour de force tonight. I thank everyone who has spoken for the way in which they made their case, and I thank my right hon. Friend for the way in which he listened. It is no bad thing to have agriculture debates two weeks running. Those who have listened to the debate and who read the pages of Hansard will see the footprints of the farming community across the pages of Hansard in the speeches that were made tonight.

I say almost as an aside that there has been near tripartisanship in the House tonight. To send the right signals to the farming community in this country and to those abroad, we must win friends and influence people. Therefore, on reflection, the Opposition might not want to press their motion to a vote.

Last week, I told the House the totals of subsidies paid by Government to farming. Those are very substantial sums of money, one of which my right hon. Friend the Minister mentioned tonight—the global sum of £600 million a year paid to the hill farming community. When I was walking a hill farm in Cumbria last Friday morning, having listened to farmers the previous evening, I promised hill farmers that I would give others pause for thought by expressing their point of view tonight.

About £20 million a year in farming subsidy goes into the Lake district. The income generated from tourism there is estimated at £580 million a year. No one would argue that that massive tourism income would be generated if the Lake district and the county of Cumbria were not looked after as they are. Therefore, although we must express the subsidy figure as £600 million because it is taxpayer's money, that figure is not the be-all and end-all. That money comes back to the Exchequer in other ways, which are not generally accepted by the accountants, who look at matters in a cold, clinical way.

I thank my right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary for coming to the debate tonight to listen to the points that were made in the wind-up. My right hon. Friend is a friend indeed.

The decision taken in Brussels today is important. Today's decision—and, I hope, the decision later this month—to lift the beef ban is very symbolic. However, no one should allow themselves to believe that beef will start to be exported until a long time after that decision, as we know from the case in Northern Ireland. The date-based scheme is slightly different. The industry will need to invest considerably because of the details of the scheme as they relate to cutting plants and abattoirs.

A substantial marketing operation will be needed, especially as there is overproduction of the product and we have lost markets. It will take a long time to win back the market. However, it is highly symbolic that the safety of British food and British beef will be recognised without exception, and that will have a ripple effect on the rest of the food industry.

We cannot deny the voluntary actions taken by supermarkets, which are currently much unloved by the community—both the farming community and the wider community—although they have been managing to take people's money by successfully converting themselves into banks. Nevertheless, supermarkets have been making their own case with rather less panache. Yesterday, they committed themselves—particularly on pigmeat, including Parma ham, the supply of which is very limited—not to import, from 1 January 1999, pigmeat products from countries that do not provide a genuinely and absolutely level playing field.

Question put, That the original words stand part of the Question:—

The House divided: Ayes 129, Noes 325.

Division No. 370][9.59 pm
Ainsworth, Peter (E Surrey)Hunter, Andrew
Amess, DavidJack, Rt Hon Michael
Ancram, Rt Hon MichaelJackson, Robert (Wantage)
Arbuthnot, Rt Hon JamesJenkin, Bernard
Atkinson, Peter (Hexham)Key, Robert
Bercow, JohnKing, Rt Hon Tom (Bridgwater)
Beresford, Sir PaulKirkbride, Miss Julie
Blunt, CrispinLaing, Mrs Eleanor
Body, Sir RichardLait, Mrs Jacqui
Boswell, TimLansley, Andrew
Bottomley, Peter (Worthing W)Letwin, Oliver
Brady, GrahamLewis, Dr Julian (New Forest E)
Brazier, JulianLidington, David
Brooke, Rt Hon PeterLloyd, Rt Hon Sir Peter (Fareham)
Browning, Mrs AngelaLoughton, Tim
Bruce, Ian (S Dorset)Luff, Peter
Burns, SimonMacGregor, Rt Hon John
Butterfill, JohnMacKay, Rt Hon Andrew
Cash, WilliamMaclean, Rt Hon David
Chapman, Sir Sydney (Chipping Barnet)McLoughlin, Patrick
Madel, Sir David
Chope, ChristopherMajor, Rt Hon John
Clappison, JamesMalins, Humfrey
Clifton-Brown, GeoffreyMaples, John
Collins, TimMates, Michael
Colvin, MichaelMaude, Rt Hon Francis
Cormack, Sir PatrickMawhinney, Rt Hon Sir Brian
Cran, JamesMay, Mrs Theresa
Dafis, CynogMoss, Malcolm
Davies, Quentin (Grantham)Nicholls, Patrick
Duncan, AlanNorman, Archie
Duncan Smith, IainOttaway, Richard
Emery, Rt Hon Sir PeterPage, Richard
Evans, NigelPaice, James
Faber, DavidPaterson, Owen
Fabricant, MichaelPickles, Eric
Forth, Rt Hon EricPrior, David
Fox, Dr LiamRandall, John
Fraser, ChristopherRedwood, Rt Hon John
Gale, RogerRobathan, Andrew
Garnier, EdwardRobertson, Laurence (Tewk'b'ry)
Gibb, NickRoe, Mrs Marlon (Broxbourne)
Gill, ChristopherRuffley, David
Gillan, Mrs CherylSt Aubyn, Nick
Goodlad, Rt Hon Sir AlastairSayeed, Jonathan
Gorman, Mrs TeresaShephard, Rt Hon Mrs Gillian
Gray, JamesSimpson, Keith (Mid-Norfolk)
Green, DamianSoames, Nicholas
Greenway, JohnSpelman, Mrs Caroline
Grieve, DominicSpicer, Sir Michael
Gummer, Rt Hon JohnSpring, Richard
Hamilton, Rt Hon Sir ArchieStanley, Rt Hon Sir John
Hammond, PhilipSteen, Anthony
Hawkins, NickSwayne, Desmond
Hayes, JohnSyms, Robert
Heald, OliverTapsell, Sir Peter
Heathcoat-Amory, Rt Hon DavidTaylor, John M (Solihull)
Hogg, Rt Hon DouglasTaylor, Sir Teddy
Horam, JohnTownend, John
Howarth, Gerald (Aldershot)Tredinnick, David
Trend, MichaelWoodward, Shaun
Tyrie, AndrewYeo, Tim
Whitney, Sir RaymondYoung, Rt Hon Sir George
Widdecombe, Rt Hon Miss Ann
Wilkinson, JohnTellers for the Ayes:
Winterton, Mrs Ann (Congleton)Mr. Stephen Day and
Winterton, Nicholas (Macdesfield)Mr. Nigel Waterson.
Abbott, Ms DianeCook, Frank (Stockton N)
Adams, Mrs Irene (Paisley N)Cooper, Yvette
Ainger, NickCorbett, Robin
Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE)Corbyn, Jeremy
Alexander, DouglasCorston, Ms Jean
Allan, RichardCotter, Brian
Allen, GrahamCousins, Jim
Anderson, Donald (Swansea E)Crausby, David
Anderson, Janet (Rossendale)Cryer, Mrs Ann (Keighley)
Armstrong, Ms HilaryCryer, John (Hornchurch)
Ashton, JoeCummings, John
Atkins, CharlotteCunningham, Jim (Cov'try S)
Baker, NormanCurtis-Thomas, Mrs Claire
Ballard, JackieDarling, Rt Hon Alistair
Barnes, HarryDarvill, Keith
Barron, KevinDavey, Edward (Kingston)
Battle, JohnDavey, Valerie (Bristol W)
Bayley, HughDavidson, Ian
Beard, NigelDavies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli)
Beckett, Rt Hon Mrs MargaretDawson, Hilton
Beith, Rt Hon A JDean, Mrs Janet
Bell, Stuart (Middlesbrough)Denham, John
Benn, Rt Hon TonyDismore, Andrew
Bermingham, GeraldDobbin, Jim
Berry, RogerDobson, Rt Hon Frank
Best, HaroldDonohoe, Brian H
Betts, CliveDowd, Jim
Blears, Ms HazelDrew, David
Borrow, DavidDrown, Ms Julia
Bradley, Keith (Withington)Eagle, Angela (Wallasey)
Bradley, Peter (The Wrekin)Eagle, Maria (L'pool Garston)
Bradshaw, BenEdwards, Huw
Brake, TomEfford, Clive
Brand, Dr PeterEllman, Mrs Louise
Breed, ColinEnnis, Jeff
Brown, Rt Hon Nick (Newcastle E)Fatchett, Derek
Browne, DesmondFearn, Ronnie
Buck, Ms KarenField, Rt Hon Frank
Burden, RichardFisher, Mark
Burgon, ColinFitzsimons, Lorna
Burnett, JohnFlynn, Paul
Butler, Mrs ChristineFoster, Michael J (Worcester)
Byers, Rt Hon StephenGalbraith, Sam
Campbell, Alan (Tynemouth)Galloway, George
Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge)Gardiner, Barry
Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V)George, Andrew (St Ives)
Campbell-Savours, DaleGerrard, Neil
Cann, JamieGibson, Dr Ian
Caplin, IvorGodman, Dr Norman A
Caton, MartinGodsiff, Roger
Chapman, Ben (Wirral S)Goggins, Paul
Chaytor, DavidGolding, Mrs Llin
Chidgey, DavidGordon, Mrs Eileen
Clapham, MichaelGorrie, Donald
Clark, Rt Hon Dr David (S Shields)Griffiths, Jane (Reading E)
Clark, Dr Lynda (Edinburgh Pentlands)Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)
Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)
Clark, Paul (Gillingham)Grogan, John
Clarke, Charles (Norwich S)Gunnell, John
Clarke, Eric (Midlothian)Hall, Mike (Weaver Vale)
Clarke, Rt Hon Tom (Coatbridge)Hall, Patrick (Bedford)
Clelland, DavidHamilton, Fabian (Leeds NE)
Coaker, VernonHarris, Dr Evan
Coffey, Ms AnnHarvey, Nick
Cohen, HarryHeal, Mrs Sylvia
Coleman, IainHeath, David (Somerton & Frome)
Connarty, MichaelHenderson, Ivan (Harwich)
Heppell, JohnMichie, Mrs Ray (Argyll & Bute)
Hesford, StephenMiller, Andrew
Hill, KeithMitchell, Austin
Hinchliffe, DavidMoffatt, Laura
Home Robertson, JohnMoonie, Dr Lewis
Hopkins, KelvinMoran, Ms Margaret
Howarth, George (Knowsley N)Morgan, Ms Julie (Cardiff N)
Howells, Dr KimMorgan, Rhodri (Cardiff W)
Hoyle, LindsayMorris, Ms Estelle (B'ham Yardley)
Hughes, Ms Beverley (Stretford)Mowlam, Rt Hon Marjorie
Humble, Mrs JoanMudie, George
Hurst, AlanMullin, Chris
Hutton, JohnMurphy, Denis (Wansbeck)
Iddon, Dr BrianMurphy, Jim (Eastwood)
Jackson, Ms Glenda (Hampstead)Naysmith, Dr Doug
Jackson, Helen (Hillsborough)Oaten, Mark
Jamieson, DavidOlner, Bill
Jenkins, BrianO'Neill, Martin
Johnson, Miss Melanie(Welwyn Hatfield)ÖOpik, Lembit
Organ, Mrs Diana
Jones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside)Osborne, Ms Sandra
Jones, Mrs Fiona (Newark)Palmer, Dr Nick
Jones, Jon Owen (Cardiff C)Pearson, Ian
Jones, Dr Lynne (Selly Oak)Pendry, Tom
Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S)Pickthall, Colin
Kaufman, Rt Hon GeraldPike, Peter L
Keeble, Ms SallyPlaskitt, James
Keen, Alan (Feltham & Heston)Pollard, Kerry
Keen, Ann (Brentford & Isleworth)Pond, Chris
Kelly, Ms RuthPope, Greg
Kemp, FraserPound, Stephen
Kennedy, Charles (Ross Skye)Powell, Sir Raymond
Kennedy, Jane (Wavertree)Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lewisham E)
Kidney, DavidPrentice, Gordon (Pendle)
Kilfoyle, PeterProsser, Gwyn
King, Andy (Rugby & Kenilworth)Purchase, Ken
Kumar, Dr AshokQuin, Ms Joyce
Ladyman, Dr StephenRadice, Giles
Laxton, BobRapson, Syd
Lepper, DavidRaynsford, Nick
Leslie, ChristopherReid, Rt Hon Dr John (Hamilton N)
Levitt, TomRendel, David
Lewis, Ivan (Bury S)Robinson, Geoffrey (Cov'try NW)
Linton, MartinRogers, Allan
Livingstone, KenRooker, Jeff
Livsey, RichardRooney, Terry
Lloyd, Tony (Manchester C)Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)
Lock, DavidRowlands, Ted
Love, AndrewRoy, Frank
McAvoy, ThomasRuddock, Ms Joan
McCabe, SteveRyan, Ms Joan
McCafferty, Ms ChrisSalter, Martin
Macdonald, CalumSanders, Adrian
McDonnell, JohnSavidge, Malcolm
McFall, JohnSawford, Phil
McGuire, Mrs AnneSedgemore, Brian
McIsaac, ShonaShaw, Jonathan
McKenna, Mrs RosemarySheerman, Barry
Mackinlay, AndrewSheldon, Rt Hon Robert
Maclennan, Rt Hon RobertShipley, Ms Debra
McNulty, TonySimpson, Alan (Nottingham S)
Mactaggart, FionaSingh, Marsha
McWalter, TonySkinner, Dennis
McWilliam, JohnSmith, Rt Hon Andrew (Oxford E)
Mahon, Mrs AliceSmith, Miss Geraldine (Morecambe & Lunesdale)
Marsden, Gordon (Blackpool S)
Marsden, Paul (Shrewsbury)Smith, John (Glamorgan)
Marshall, David (Shettleston)Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent)
Marshall-Andrews, RobertSmith, Sir Robert (W Ab'd'ns)
Martlew, EricSnape, Peter
Maxton, JohnSouthworth, Ms Helen
Meacher, Rt Hon MichaelSpellar, John
Meale, AlanSquire, Ms Rachel
Merron, GillianStarkey, Dr Phyllis
Michael, AlunSteinberg, Gerry
Michie, Bill (Shef'ld Heeley)Stevenson, George
Stewart, Ian (Eccles)Twigg, Stephen (Enfield)
Stoate, Dr HowardTyler, Paul
Strang, Rt Hon Dr GavinVaz, Keith
Straw, Rt Hon JackVis, Dr Rudi
Stringer, GrahamWallace, James
Stunell, AndrewWareing, Robert N
Sutcliffe, GerryWebb, Steve
Taylor, Rt Hon Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)White, Brian
Wicks, Malcolm
Taylor, Ms Dari (Stockton S)Williams, Rt Hon Alan (Swansea W)
Taylor, David (NW Leics)
Taylor, Matthew (Truro)Williams, Alan W (E Carmarthen)
Temple-Morris, PeterWillis, Phil
Thomas, Gareth (Clwyd W)Wills, Michael
Timms, StephenWinnick, David
Tipping, PaddyWise, Audrey
Todd, MarkWood, Mike
Touhig, DonWorthington, Tony
Trickett, JonWright, Anthony D (Gt Yarmouth)
Truswell, PaulWright, Dr Tony (Cannock)
Turner, Dennis (Wolveht'ton SE)
Turner, Dr Desmond (Kemptown)Tellers for the Noes:
Turner, Dr George (NW Norfolk)Mr. David Hanson and
Twigg, Derek (Halton)Mr. Kevin Hughes.

Question accordingly negatived.

Question, That the proposed words be there added, put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No.31 (Questions on amendments):—

The House divided: Ayes 248, Noes 132.

Division No. 371][10.13 pm
Abbott, Ms DianeClark, Dr Lynda (Edinburgh Pentlands)
Adams, Mrs Irene (Paisley N)
Ainger, NickClark, Paul (Gillingham)
Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE)Clarke, Charles (Norwich S)
Alexander, DouglasClarke, Eric (Midlothian)
Allen, GrahamClarke, Rt Hon Tom (Coatbridge)
Anderson, Donald (Swansea E)Clelland, David
Anderson, Janet (Rossendale)Coaker, Vernon
Armstrong, Ms HilaryCoffey, Ms Ann
Atkins, CharlotteCohen, Harry
Barnes, HarryColeman, Iain
Barron, Kevin Connarty, Michael
Battle, JohnCook, Frank (Stockton N)
Bayley, HughCooper, Yvette
Beard, NigelCorbett, Robin
Beckett, Rt Hon Mrs MargaretCorbyn, Jeremy
Bermingham, GeraldCorston, Ms Jean
Betts, CliveCousins, Jim
Blears, Ms HazelCrausby, David
Borrow, DavidCryer, John (Hornchurch)
Bradley, Keith (Withington)Cummings, John
Bradley, Peter (The Wrekin)Cunningham, Jim (Cov'try S)
Bradshaw, BenCurtis-Thomas, Mrs Claire
Brown, Rt Hon Nick (Newcastle E)Darvill, Keith
Browne, DesmondDavey, Valerie (Bristol W)
Buck, Ms KarenDavidson, Ian
Burden, RichardDavies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli)
Burgon, ColinDean, Mrs Janet
Butler, Mrs ChristineDismore, Andrew
Byers, Rt Hon StephenDobbin, Jim
Campbell, Alan (Tynemouth)Dobson, Rt Hon Frank
Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge)Donohoe, Brian H
Campbell-Savours, DaleDowd, Jim
Cann, JamieDrew, David
Caplin, IvorDrown, Ms Julia
Caton, MartinEagle, Angela (Wallasey)
Chapman, Ben (Wirral S)Eagle, Maria (L'pool Garston)
Chaytor, DavidEdwards, Huw
Clapham, MichaelEllman, Mrs Louise
Clark, Rt Hon Dr David (S Shields)Fatchett, Derek
Fisher, MarkMeale, Alan
Fitzsimons, LornaMerron, Gillian
Foster, Michael J (Worcester)Michael, Alun
Galbraith, SamMichie, Bill (Shef'ld Heeley)
Gardiner, Barry Miller, Andrew
Gerrard, Neil Mitchell, Austin
Gibson, Dr IanMoffatt, Laura
Godman, Dr Norman AMoonie, Dr Lewis
Goggins, PaulMoran, Ms Margaret
Golding, Mrs LlinMorgan, Ms Julie (Cardiff N)
Gordon, Mrs EileenMorgan, Rhodri (Cardiff W)
Griffiths, Jane (Reading E)Morris, Ms Estelle (B'ham Yardley)
Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)Mudie, George
Grogan, JohnMullin, Chris
Gunnell, JohnMurphy, Denis (Wansbeck)
Hall, Mike (Weaver Vale)Murphy, Jim (Eastwood)
Hall, Patrick (Bedford)Naysmith, Dr Doug
Hamilton, Fabian (Leeds NE)Olner, Bill
Heal, Mrs SylviaO'Neill, Martin
Henderson, Ivan (Harwich)Osborne, Ms Sandra
Heppell, JohnPalmer, Dr Nick
Hesford, Stephen Pearson, Ian
Hill, KeithPendry, Tom
Hinchliffe, DavidPickthall, Colin
Home Robertson, JohnPike, Peter L
Howarth, George (Knowsley N)Plaskitt, James
Hughes, Ms Beverley (Stretford)Pollard, Kerry
Hurst, AlanPond, Chris
Hutton, JohnPope, Greg
Iddon, Dr BrianPound, Stephen
Jackson, Helen (Hillsborough)Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lewisham E)
Jenkins, BrianPrentice, Gordon (Pendle)
Johnson, Miss Melanie(Welwyn Hatfield)Prosser, Gwyn
Quin, Ms Joyce
Jones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside)Radice, Giles
Jones, Mrs Fiona (Newark)Rapson, Syd
Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S)Raynsford, Nick
Kaufman, Rt Hon GeraldReid, Rt Hon Dr John (Hamilton N)
Keeble, Ms SallyRobinson, Geoffrey (Cov'try NW)
Keen, Alan (Feltham & Heston)Rooker, Jeff
Keen, Ann (Brentford & Isleworth)Rooney, Terry
Kelly, Ms RuthRoss, Ernie (Dundee W)
Kemp, FraserRowlands, Ted
Kennedy, Jane (Wavertree)Roy, Frank
Kidney, DavidRuddock, Ms Joan
Kilfoyle, PeterRyan, Ms Joan
King, Andy (Rugby & Kenilworth)Salter, Martin
Kumar, Dr AshokSavidge, Malcolm
Ladyman, Dr StephenSawford, Phil
Lepper, DavidSedgemore, Brian
Leslie, ChristopherShaw, Jonathan
Levitt, TomSheerman, Barry
Lewis, Ivan (Bury S)Simpson, Alan (Nottingham S)
Linton, MartinSingh, Marsha
Lloyd, Tony (Manchester C)Skinner, Dennis
Lock, DavidSmith, Rt Hon Andrew (Oxford E)
Love, AndrewSmith, Miss Geraldine(Morecambe & Lunesdale)
McAvoy, Thomas
McCabe, SteveSouthworth, Ms Helen
McCafferty, Ms ChrisSpellar, John
McDonnell, JohnSquire, Ms Rachel
McFall, JohnStarkey, Dr Phyllis
McGuire, Mrs AnneSteinberg, Gerry
McIsaac, ShonaStewart, Ian (Eccles)
McKenna, Mrs RosemaryStoate, Dr Howard
Mackinlay, AndrewStrang, Rt Hon Dr Gavin
McNulty, TonyStraw, Rt Hon Jack
Mactaggart, FionaSutcliffe, Gerry
McWalter, TonyTaylor, Rt Hon Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)
Mahon, Mrs Alice
Marsden, Gordon (Blackpool S)Taylor, Ms Dari (Stockton S)
Marsden, Paul (Shrewsbury)Taylor, David (NW Leics)
Marshall, David (Shettleston)Temple-Morris, Peter
Marshall-Andrews, RobertThomas, Gareth (Clwyd W)
Maxton, JohnTimms, Stephen
Meacher, Rt Hon MichaelTipping, Paddy
Todd, MarkWilliams, Alan W (E Carmarthen)
Touhig, DonWills, Michael
Trickett, JonWinnick, David
Truswell, PaulWise, Audrey
Turner, Dr Desmond (Kemptown)Wood, Mike
Turner, Dr George (NW Norfolk)Worthington, Tony
Twigg, Derek (Halton)Wright, Anthony D (Gt Yarmouth)
Twigg, Stephen (Enfield)Wright, Dr Tony (Cannock)
Vaz, Keith
Vis, Dr RudiTellers for the Ayes:
Wareing, Robert NMr. David Hanson and
Wicks, MalcolmMr. Kevin Hughes.
Ainsworth, Peter (E Surrey)Hammond, Philip
Allan, RichardHarris, Dr Evan
Amess, DavidHarvey, Nick
Ancram, Rt Hon MichaelHawkins, Nick
Arbuthnot, Rt Hon JamesHayes, John
Atkinson, Peter (Hexham)Heald, Oliver
Baker, NormanHeath, David (Somerton & Frome)
Ballard, JackieHeathcoat-Amory, Rt Hon David
Beith, Rt Hon A JHogg, Rt Hon Douglas
Bercow, John Howarth, Gerald (Aldershot)
Blunt, CrispinJack, Rt Hon Michael
Boswell, TimJackson, Robert (Wantage)
Bottomley, Peter (Worthing W)Kennedy, Charles (Ross Skye)
Brake, TomKing, Rt Hon Tom (Bridgwater)
Brand, Dr PeterKirkbride, Miss Julie
Brazier, JulianLaing, Mrs Eleanor
Breed, ColinLait, Mrs Jacqui
Brooke, Rt Hon PeterLansley, Andrew
Browning, Mrs AngelaLetwin, Oliver
Bruce, Ian (S Dorset)Lewis, Dr Julian (New Forest E)
Burnett, JohnLidington, David
Burns, SimonLivsey, Richard
Butterfill, JohnLloyd, Rt Hon Sir Peter (Fareham)
Cash, WilliamLuff, Peter
Chapman, Sir Sydney(Chipping Barnet)MacGregor, Rt Hon John
MacKay, Rt Hon Andrew
Chidgey, DavidMaclean, Rt Hon David
Chope, ChristopherMaclennan, Rt Hon Robert
Clifton-Brown, GeoffreyMcLoughlin, Patrick
Collins, TimMadel, Sir David
Colvin, MichaelMajor, Rt Hon John
Cotter, BrianMaude, Rt Hon Francis
Cran, JamesMawhinney, Rt Hon Sir Brian
Davies, Quentin (Grantham)May, Mrs Theresa
Day, StephenMichie, Mrs Ray (Argyll & Bute)
Duncan, AlanNicholls, Patrick
Duncan Smith, IainNorman, Archie
Emery, Rt Hon Sir PeterOaten, Mark
Evans, NigelÖpik, Lembit
Faber, DavidOttaway, Richard
Fabricant, MichaelPage, Richard
Fearn, RonniePaice, James
Fox, Dr LiamPaterson, Owen
Fraser, ChristopherPrior, David
Garnier, EdwardRandall, John
George, Andrew (St Ives)Redwood, Rt Hon John
Gibb, NickRendel, David
Gill, ChristopherRobathan, Andrew
Goodlad, Rt Hon Sir AlastairRobertson, Laurence (Tewk'b'ry)
Gorman, Mrs TeresaRuffley, David
Gorrie, DonaldRussell, Bob (Colchester)
Gray, JamesSt Aubyn, Nick
Green, DamianSanders, Adrian
Grieve, DominicSayeed, Jonathan
Gummer, Rt Hon JohnSmith, Sir Robert (W Ab'd'ns)
Hamilton, Rt Hon Sir ArchieSpelman, Mrs Caroline
Spicer, Sir MichaelWebb, Steve
Spring, RichardWiddecombe, Rt Hon Miss Ann
Stanley, Rt Hon Sir JohnWilkinson, John
Swayne, DesmondWillis, Phil
Syms, RobertWinterton, Mrs Ann (Congleton)
Taylor, John M (Solihull)Winterton, Nicholas (Macclesfield)
Taylor, Matthew (Truro)Woodward, Shaun
Trend, MichaelYeo, Tim
Tyler, PaulYoung, Rt Hon Sir George
Tyrie, AndrewTellers for the Noes:
Wallace, JamesMr. Andrew Stunell and
Waterson, Nigel Mr. Edward Davey.

Question accordingly agreed to.

MR. DEPUTY SPEAKER forthwith declared the main Question, as amended, to be agreed to.


That this House welcomes the Government's strong commitment to the United Kingdom farming industry and to the wider rural economy; recognises that the lifting of the beef export ban in Northern Ireland represents the first crucial step towards lifting the ban from all parts of the United Kingdom; welcomes the steps which the Government has taken since May 1997 to support the beef and sheep industry via EU agri-monetary compensation and relief from charges; acknowledges the steps taken specifically to help the sheep, pig and cereal sectors with targeted EU measures; and endorses the Government's intention to bring about a secure and viable future for United Kingdom farming by seeking a reformed Common Agricultural Policy, which is more economically rational, which reduces the bureaucratic burden on farmers, which enhances targeted support for the rural economy, which serves the consumer well and which contains fair and common rules to ensure that the United Kingdom's farming and food industries can exploit their competitive advantages in European and world markets.