My ministerial team and I have, between us, held or attended seven meetings involving pig farmers or their representatives since the beginning of November. Principal among the topics discussed have been the pig industry restructuring scheme, which has now received full European Union Commission approval and is open to both outgoers and ongoers, and the recent outbreak of classical swine fever in East Anglia, where I am pleased to say that the final area movement restrictions on commercial pig operations were lifted earlier this week. Producers will also have been heartened by the ending of the export, ban on live pigs from Norfolk and Suffolk at midnight last night.
I am sure that the House will want to join me in paying tribute to Jim Scudamore, the chief veterinary officer, his staff in the state veterinary service and their administrative colleagues for their sterling efforts in controlling the disease, for representing the national interest so effectively at European Union and wider international level, and for responding so swiftly to the many practical problems that the outbreak created.
I thank the Minister for that statement. However, given the parlous state of the pig industry, will he give the House an undertaking that the funds available for the pig industry restructuring scheme—I think that they come to about £66 million—will be continued, and that if there is any shortfall this year it will be carried forward or replaced next year? Will he also undertake to find time to introduce a statutory instrument on the pig industry development scheme as speedily as possible? Indeed, if the Government could find more time in the House to introduce the necessary legislation for the pig industry and less time to criminalise field sports, there would be much rejoicing in Banbury-shire and rural England.
I will take the part of the question that I agree with and welcome the hon. Gentleman's support for the development scheme. I will give him the assurance that he seeks—this is not a party-political matter. We are all trying to do our best to help the industry through what have been difficult times. I have to consider the representations made to me by the Meat and Livestock Commission, but the appropriate regulations will be laid as soon as and if it is proper to do so.
On the moneys, I fought very hard with colleagues in the Government and with the European Union Commission for the outgoers and ongoers scheme. Having got the scheme in place, I want it to work as effectively as possible. The budget is ring-fenced year by year, and uptake will depend on applications under both the ongoers and the outgoers element. It is also important to point out that it is a United Kingdom, not an England only, scheme.
Together with my right hon. Friend's colleague, Baroness Hayman, I recently visited the midland pig producers unit near Osgathorpe in north-west Leicestershire. Among the issues raised was the impact of the classical swine fever outbreak in East Anglia and the risks it posed for the east midlands, and Baroness Hayman was impressed by the responsible attitude that was taken. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the National Pig Association has suggested a levy-based industry contribution to the compensation scheme and will he undertake to bring before the House as rapidly as possible the necessary legislation to introduce that scheme?
I hope to bring the necessary legislation before the House and to make the appropriate arrangements with Ministers in the devolved authorities—it is a Great Britain matter—as soon as and if it is appropriate to do so. I hope that we can proceed on an all-party basis.
I thank my hon. Friend for what he said about the industry's response. It has responded with great courage and common sense in the difficult circumstances of the classical swine fever outbreak in East Anglia.
The Minister has been able to help the pig industry by obtaining an 80 per cent. discount on the climate change levy. Will he explain why he has not been able to make the same discount available to the horticulture industry through the introduction of climate change levy farm production agreements?
This is slightly off the point, because the question was about the pig industry. However, in the spirit of the season, I can tell the right hon. Gentleman that, of course, representations were made within Government about the specific circumstances of the horticulture sector. As he almost certainly knows, I was able to obtain concessions for it, although I accept that they do not go as far as the industry would have liked.
Both the outgoers and the ongoers elements are open now, and I have had discussions with Brid Rodgers, the Northern Ireland Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, about the specific application of the scheme in Northern Ireland. I appreciate that there is particular interest in the scheme there, and the hon. Gentleman and I met pig farmers in his constituency when I visited Northern Ireland some time ago. The urgency of the matter was impressed upon me then.
May I take the Minister back to the restructuring scheme? He said that the funds are ring-fenced year by year. We should bear in mind the fact that the action plan of 30 March allocated £26 million for this year and that the Minister of State told me in an answer this week:
While it may be possible for some payments under
to be made in the financial year 2000–01, we expect all payments to be completed in the financial year 2001–02; at least £20 million will be available for this purpose.—[Official Report, 19 December 2000; Vol. 360, c. 134W.]
If that money is ring-fenced year by year, will most of the £26 million that the Minister allocated in March be lost because of the delays in setting up the scheme, or will he carry it forward? On this festive occasion, is he going to be Father Christmas or Scrooge?
Neither. It is fair to explain to the House that there was no such scheme under the previous Conservative Government. Having fought so hard for the scheme within Government, it is highly unlikely that I would not want to maximise its impact. However, the hon. Gentleman is on to a good point and I repeat that the budget is ring-fenced year by year. The carry-forward, as the hon. Gentleman knows—or not—is a matter for discussions within Government. [HON. MEMBERS: "Ah!] That should not come as a surprise to anyone who has served as a Minister. I am not the sole master of this matter, but I intend to do my very best for the industry. Regrettably, I cannot say more than that.
That is exactly the point: does the Minister have the power to keep back that money? If he does not, will he ensure that every last available penny in the first tranche of £26 million for the pig industry reconstruction scheme will be available to everyone who can apply in time? The key consideration is that none of the money is lost, because it is precious. The industry is under pressure and it is much needed now.
There has been a great deal of interest in both aspects of the scheme—the outgoers and the ongoers. There has been a substantial number of applications and the amount that is spent will depend on how many we receive. I fought very hard within Government for that package of measures and I want it to work. For those people who have the interests of the industry at heart, it is surely a good idea for them to give me some help and support, instead of making it harder than it already is.