Agriculture

Part of Opposition Day – in the House of Commons at 7:41 pm on 4th November 1998.

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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 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.