Crisis in Agriculture

Opposition Day – in the House of Commons at 4:27 pm on 1 February 2001.

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

I beg to move,

That this House expresses its profound concern about the crisis in British agriculture, demonstrated by the collapse in farm incomes and loss of jobs; notes that, since the launch of the Government's Action Plan for Farming, incomes have continued to fall and many of the promises remain unfulfilled; condemns the Government for its failure to address this crisis and for its damaging policies which have made matters even worse; and calls on the Government to end the competitive disadvantage suffered by British farmers as a result of red tape, gold-plating and over-regulation, to introduce honesty in food-labelling and to restrict the flow of sub-standard food imports.

I welcome the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food to the Dispatch Box for what may be his last speech in the House in a general agricultural debate. I pay tribute to the almost unfailing courtesy that he has shown during the two and a half years that he and I have debated such matters. I also pay tribute to his genuine willingness to listen to farmers and their problems, which is in happy contrast to the attitude adopted by his immediate predecessor. Sadly, most of what the right hon. Gentleman has done stopped at that point—at listening rather than acting.

In the two and a half years since the right hon. Gentleman was appointed, he has spoken in seven major debates on agriculture—no fewer than six of which were called by the Opposition. This is the first agriculture debate in the House since July. It is six long months since we last discussed the subject—six months characterised by terrible weather and more pressure on farm incomes.

Labour's reluctance to discuss the worst crisis in agriculture for two generations is odd for a party that keeps claiming to represent the countryside.

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

On the point about debates, it is my recollection that a Conservative Opposition day debate on agriculture£because of the pressing need for such a debate£was scheduled for 13 July, but was dropped at the last minute. It was rescheduled for today. Could not the hon. Gentleman have rescheduled his debate a little sooner?

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

We actually held a debate in July. If that is the best that the Minister can offer to justify his refusal to come to the House and debate these issues in Government time, it will be regarded as pretty thin gruel by those people in the industry who are suffering the consequences of his policy.

It is not only in Parliament that the Minister is so reluctant to discuss agriculture; last autumn, at the Labour party conference, he made a speech in which he referred to shipbuilding and coal mining, but did not once mention dairy farmers or pig farmers. That is an appalling reflection of his priorities and those of his party. It makes it clear to Britain's rural communities that Labour simply does not care whether farming survives as an important industry.

Labour do not merely refuse to discuss the crisis; they refuse to do anything about it—or, on the rare occasions when they do, they make matters worse rather than better.

Since 1997, farm incomes have fallen by three quarters. Even the Minister admits that they are at their lowest level in real terms since the 1930s, and yesterday's figures showed that average total incomes for farmers are down to just over £5,000 a year. In each of the last two years in Britain, some 20,000 jobs in farming have been lost and every day 60 people leave the industry. The arable, dairy, pig, beef and sheep sectors have all suffered—none has escaped. When fanning struggles, the whole rural economy is damaged and the countryside environment starts to deteriorate.

While this human, social and economic tragedy is devastating rural communities throughout Britain, the only countryside issue that Labour wants to talk about in Parliament is hunting. Labour's attack on hunting is a bone thrown by a cynical Prime Minister to the class warriors on his Back Benches to keep them occupied until the election. It is a disgraceful attempt to divert attention away from the real problems facing the countryside. The past two weeks have exposed more clearly than ever before the deceit and dishonesty at the very top of this Labour Government—deceit and dishonesty with which farmers have been living for years.

Photo of Charlotte Atkins Charlotte Atkins Labour, Staffordshire Moorlands

The Labour Government have provided £650 million in agrimonetary compensation. How much did the previous Tory Government provide to farmers?

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

I am afraid that the hon. Lady has clearly relied on a Whips' handout. However, let us use it to nail a myth once and for all. The agrimonetary compensation regime started three months before the last election. The Government have had 10 months in the current year to decide whether to take up all the available agrimonetary compensation. They have to decide that against a background of farm incomes that are a quarter of the level they were in 1997. There is not a shred of evidence that the Minister, of all people, would have decided—in the space of only three months, when farm incomes were four times their current level—to take up any agrimonetary compensation at all. It is scandalous that farmers still do not know whether the compensation will be taken up in the current year.

The purpose of the two packages that the Minister announced in 1999 and again last year was not to help agriculture; it was to help the Government win headlines. In September 1999, the Minister announced what he claimed was £537 million of new aid for agriculture. All but £150 million of that was already due to British farmers under the common agricultural policy and, of the rest, £89 million was temporary exemption from charges that the Labour Government had introduced and £60 million maintained the previous level of support for hill farmers. That left just £1 million of actual new money from a package worth half a billion pounds.

In March last year, the Minister was at it again, and this time he was joined by the Prime Minister. The Downing street summit produced a new package called the "action plan for farming", which Labour claimed this time was £203 million of cash help for farmers—another claim that turned out to be bogus. Part of what Labour said was cash help for farmers turned out to be simply a promise not to raise meat hygiene inspection charges by more than the rate of inflation.

That package included £66 million in agrimonetary compensation for the weak euro, which was not extra at all. It was actually a cut of £76 million compared with what had been spent in the previous year. It included again the £60 million of help for hill farmers, again simply maintaining the existing level of support. It included £26 million to help pig farmers restructure, and not a penny of that money has been spent. The best that the Minister can do about that is a bit of vague waffle this morning about trying to carry the money forward to next year. The package also included money under the Small Business Service and the redundant building grant programme, scarcely any of which has been taken up 10 months later.

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 is being a little bit mean-spirited in not giving us the credit for the increase in hill farm allowances—the £60 million year on year for three years. He said that it was money that was already there, but it was put there by the incoming Labour Government; it was not there under the previous Conservative Government. In any event, the main thrust of the hon. Gentleman's remarks is clearly that more money should be spent on farming. How much more money should be spent, and how would that square with a policy of cutting taxation and reducing public expenditure?

Photo of Alan Haselhurst Alan Haselhurst Deputy Speaker and Chairman of Ways and Means

Order. May I call for brief interventions in what is a short debate?

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

The thrust of my remarks is that twice in the past two years, against a background of an industry facing its worst crisis for two generations, the Minister has made a great public relations and presentational triumph out of announcing hundreds of millions of pounds of what he calls new money. On examination, it turns out to be merely a continuation of the previous year's expenditure, or money that never sees the light of day.

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

The Minister will have his chance to speak later.

I want the truth about the money that the Minister is spending, instead of the claims that he is helping farmers when he is doing nothing of the sort. The two packages were stuffed full of false promises; they were cynically designed to deceive the public into thinking something was being done for an industry on its knees. They were packages presented without a care for the damage that raising hopes and then dashing them has on the morale of individual farmers struggling to earn a living for their families. In December 1999, the Select Committee on Agriculture concluded: The Minister should take care not to give false hope to farmers. How right it was.

The story of the past two years is the story of Labour's missing millions—money promised to farmers that turned out not to exist. The prospects for 2001 do not look much better. There has been a very small improvement in some product prices, but incomes remain tightly squeezed. Labour has still not claimed all the agrimonetary compensation available this year. There are less than three months left to secure £200 million for the industry and, during oral questions this morning, the Minister refused to say whether he would claim it.

Photo of James Plaskitt James Plaskitt Labour, Warwick and Leamington

Does the hon. Gentleman recall that the previous Conservative Government had the opportunity to take £500 million in agrimonetary compensation but did not take it?

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

I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman did not listen to the answer I gave to the hon. Member for Staffordshire, Moorlands (Charlotte Atkins). I have explained the answer, and I shall not waste time explaining it again. It is on the record in Hansard.However, I give the pledge today that, as long as the Conservative election victory comes before 30 April—the last day for claiming the money—we will claim every penny of it. Perhaps the Minister will tell us what he expects will happen when the agrimonetary regime runs out in two years. The first act of the next Conservative Agriculture Minister will be to start talks about what will replace that regime.

Not content with misleading farmers, Labour is up to its old trick of increasing the burdens on them. The pre-Budget report published by the Chancellor last November confirmed his continuing support for a pesticide tax. The horticulture industry is threatened with the climate change levy, which is yet another stealth tax penalising British employers, and one that the next Conservative Government will repeal. [Interruption.] The Parliamentary Secretary says that abolishing that tax means that more money will have to be found. That is interesting, because the Government pledged that the money raised by the climate change levy would be entirely recycled to other businesses. Perhaps the Minister has blown the gaff on the Government's post-election plan for the proceeds from the climate change levy.

Horticulture faces another new burden through the proposed extension of the licensing scheme to previously unregulated trickle-in irrigation. In the arable sector, Labour supported the everything but arms proposal, which would have damaged growers of sugar, one of the few remaining profitable crops. Beef producers have been undermined by Labour's refusal to restrict imports of beef from cattle over 30 months old entering Britain following the collapse of confidence in beef in France and Germany.

In that case, it is not only farmers who suffer, but consumers. Inch by painful inch, we extracted the truth from the Minister about the lack of protection for British consumers, such as the absence of checks at ports of entry and the inadequacy of the paperwork attaching to imports. Processed beef products containing beef from cattle over 30 months old are being imported and sold here, but we would have known none of that from the story that the Minister was telling last year.

In Parliament last April, the Minister said: The fact is that we do not allow meat products over 30 months to be imported into this country."£[Official Report,13 April 2000; Vol. 348, c. 485.] A week later, he wrote to me and said: The sale of meat and meat products from cattle over 30 months in this country is banned…It is untrue and irresponsible to imply that UK consumers are exposed to dangerous imports. Seven months later, the Minister said: This country's public protection measures, which are very powerful, include a ban on selling any beef product derived from animals that are over 30 months."—[Official Report, 16 November; Vol. 356, c. 1053.] Unfortunately, every one of those statements turned out to be wrong.

Professor Harriet Kimbell, a member of the Spongiform Encephalopathy Advisory Committee, pointed out before Christmas that the ban on over-30-months meat applied only to fresh meat, which is a crucial distinction. She said: The regulations are not as we thought they were. It is highly likely that meat from cattle over 30 months old is being sold in this country. Finally, the Minister himself came clean in a letter to me on 10 January. He said that the Food Standards Agency had explained that the Over 30 Month Rule is difficult to police on imports. It is also the case that this rule does not apply to the sale of imported processed products.

How lucky that the Minister gave his answers in Parliament. Imagine where he might be now if he had given them to Alastair Campbell. It is the old story: the Minister is the farmer's friend as long as the farmer is foreign. Labour is always ready to crack down on British farmers, but it never acts against imports, perhaps for fear of upsetting its friends in France, who have been so incredibly helpful over the sale of safe, healthy British beef. No matter what France does, legally or illegally, to undermine Britain's farmers or to put Britain's consumers at risk, the Minister will never lift a finger against France.

The whole countryside is now in crisis. That crisis has been made worse by Labour's neglect and hostility, by fuel taxes that uniquely damage rural communities and by cuts in the police that leave our villages unprotected. In thirteen weeks, in all probability, the British people will have their chance to save the countryside. Much will need to be done urgently by the incoming Conservative Government. In our first days in office, we shall take three steps, none of which will cost a penny of taxpayers' money.

First, we shall lift the burden of red tape and regulation now strangling Britain's farm and food industry. We fully endorse the conclusions of Lord Haskins's better regulation task force. We shall stop the gold-plating of regulations. We shall stop enforcing European directives, such as that on integrated pollution prevention and control, sooner and in a tougher manner than other countries.

If the Minister wants to show that he is concerned about red tape, he could start with the European charging directive in his Meat (Hygiene and Inspection) (Charges) (Amendment) (England) Regulations 2001, a statutory instrument laid in the past few days. In those regulations, the words "may be" in the European law relating to extra inspection charges payable by food processors are changed to "shall be" in Britain. That typical example of gold-plating by the Government has nothing to do with the European Union. Incidentally, the people who will be affected by those regulations were given two days to comment on a draft that Ministers had taken six months to prepare.

Our second step will be to introduce honesty in food labelling so that consumers know the country of origin and the method of production of the food that they buy. Selling food that purports to be British when it contains not a single item grown in this country is simply a fraud on consumers. As fears have grown about the safety of imported beef, Ministers and the Food Standards Agency have suggested that consumers should decide for themselves whether to eat it. However, those Ministers have prevented consumers from being given the information on which they could base that choice.

The third step is to restrict the import of food that is produced in ways that are not permitted in the United Kingdom. There are persistent reports that some of the poultry from the far east is reared using growth-promoting drugs that are banned throughout Europe on health grounds. It is wrong that our farmers should be placed at a competitive disadvantage and that our consumers are put at risk because of Labour's refusal to challenge these imports.

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

On that, at least, I agree with the hon. Gentleman. If he has hard evidence, will he please give it to me?

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

The Minister said earlier today that it was open to the European Union to inspect the plants in which such food is produced. It is interesting, however, that he relies on the Food Standards Agency and not the EU to tell us whether imported food is correct or not. Is he confirming that the agency has no intention of inspecting any of the plants? That will not fill consumers with much confidence about the care with which assurances are being given.

Photo of Nigel Evans Nigel Evans Vice-Chair, Conservative Party

Ribble valley farmers are of a mind that, whereas we comply with all the rules and directives that we sign up to, farmers in the rest of Europe seem to be under a new and lax regime. Will my hon. Friend ensure that under the next Conservative Government, the rules and directives that countries sign up to will be properly enforced?

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

The lack of enforcement of existing rules in many European countries is one of the scandals of the EU. Instead of endlessly seeking to pass new laws and to extend its regulatory powers, the Commission should try to ensure that existing regulations are enforced in a timely and even-handed manner throughout the EU.

Above all, farming needs a Government who will stand up for its interests, insist that the public sector buys only food that meets British standards, help the organic sector by leading the way towards a common international standard, recognise the problems facing older farmers by introducing a retirement scheme for tenants, and protect the integrity of existing farms by exercising proper controls over genetically modified crop trials, instead of doing the bidding of their friends in big business and allowing the commercial planting of GM crops before their environmental effects are understood.

It is time to end the scandal of Labour's missing millions. Cash is promised to the farmers and then taken back by the Treasury. It is time to treat farmers as grown-ups in an industry that is fighting for survival, rather than as victims to be duped by Labour spin doctors. Farmers, consumers, taxpayers and the countryside need a Government who believe that the survival of agriculture is important to the future of Britain. Conservatives believe that, and I commend the motion 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) 4:48, 1 February 2001

I beg to move, To leave out from "House" to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof: recognises the continuing difficulties faced by the agriculture sector as a result of the low level of farm incomes; endorses the Government's long term vision for agriculture as sustainable, competitive and diverse, environmentally responsible, and an integral part of vibrant rural economies; recognises the important role of the new Rural Development Programmes in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland in delivering this vision; welcomes the measures in the Action Plan for Farming and the Rural White Paper to give immediate financial relief to the hardest-hit sectors and to reduce the burden of regulation on farming; supports the Government's constructive engagement in Europe to reform further the Common Agricultural Policy; notes that the Conservative party's policies of banning foreign imports and taking unilateral action in areas of European Union competence are illegal and would lead to heavy penalties being levied on UK taxpayers as well as retaliatory action against UK exporters; notes that the Conservative Party have not indicated how much of the £16 billion they propose in public expenditure cuts would fall on British farmers; and calls on the Conservative Party instead to come forward with practical and constructive policies to help farmers through very difficult times.

I thank the hon. Member for South Suffolk (Mr. Yeo) for choosing agriculture for the Opposition Supply day and for his first two sentences. After that, I thought that his speech rather fell away.

The hon. Gentleman was kind enough to express his good wishes for my future. He commented that this may be the last time I appear at the Dispatch Box as Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. Unless he knows something that I do not—I think that unlikely in this context—I expect to be at the Government Dispatch Box on 15 February to discuss a matter of enormous importance to agriculture, a matter for which the Conservative party can properly take a great deal of—[Interruption.] I am not sure that credit would be quite the right word. I shall explain the Government's response to the Phillips report and the national tragedy of BSE. It is very much an agriculture issue, and I expect to be in my place to discuss it.

I notice that the hon. Gentleman did not go so far as to say that, on my departure he expected to succeed me. I know that the farming community will be grateful for that.

It is clear that British fanning continues to suffer from a severe and prolonged downturn; there is no quarrel between us on that. The principal causes are widely agreed on, although one would not have learned that from the speech of the hon. Member for South Suffolk. Those causes are low world commodity prices, the weakness of the euro and the continuing impact of BSE, not just on the beef sector, but right across the livestock sector. I acknowledge further recent difficulties, including the outbreak of swine fever in East Anglia, widespread flooding of agricultural land and increases in world oil prices.

I want to set out what the Government have done to help, and explain our long-term strategy for the future.

Photo of Mr Tom King Mr Tom King Chair, Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament, Chair, Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament, Chair, Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament, Chair, Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament, Chair, Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament, Chair, Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament, Chair, Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament

May I just clear up a certain point? The Minister has often said that he will do what he can to help, although he also asks what he can do, given the restrictions. Agrimonetary compensation is one thing that can be tackled, and every Government must examine that against the background of agricultural circumstances. The Minister has announced that the hourly wage rate in agriculture is now about £1, if a profit is being made. The position is desperate: he spoke about a downturn, and there may well not be an upturn.

The Minister knows that the Chancellor has a substantial budget surplus. Surely now is the time when, if the Minister wishes to keep agriculture going, agrimonetary compensation should be asked for.

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

As the right hon. Gentleman knows, I have a lot of sympathy for that. Since the Labour party came to power, we have spent £629 million on agrimonetary compensation. The right hon. Gentleman will know that when the president of the National Fanners Union and the chairman of the NFU arable sector committee came to see me last autumn and made the case for agrimonetary compensation in the arable sector, I was able to add to the mandatory payments—which I negotiated to be mandatory—part of the voluntary amount as well. I know that that was welcomed by the sector.

That is the first time any Government have paid out voluntary agrimonetary compensation in the arable sector. We did that in recognition of the difficult times that the arable sector in the area represented by the right hon. Member for Bridgwater (Mr. King), among others, was going through. Those things are judged on a case-by-case basis. The right hon. Gentleman was a Cabinet Minister and knows that, in government, expenditure under the regime has to be argued for against competing claims for public expenditure. I put the case for the industry when I think it justified, and I have fought for it very hard indeed in recent circumstances, as the NFU and others, including Members of Parliament with constituency interests, have made a case for it. However, I cannot make an announcement in today's debate.

Since coming to office, the Government have provided short-term assistance worth £1.2 billion, which includes agrimonetary compensation of £289 million to arable farmers, £236 million to beef farmers, £82 million to sheep farmers and £22 million to dairy farmers. To answer the intervention of the right hon. Member for Bridgwater, because of the difficulties in the dairy sector, last year we drew down every single penny that was available across the agrimonetary regime.

We have allocated an extra £300 million to hill farmers, above the level of hill farming grants that we inherited from the previous Government—I made that point in my intervention on the hon. Member for South Suffolk. We have offset a range of regulatory charges, including those for cattle passports, specified risk material inspections and dairy hygiene inspections. We have increased payments under the over-30-months scheme by lifting the weight limit for cattle entered in the scheme. The NFU especially asked us to do that, and we have responded.

We have dramatically increased grants available for organic conversion, processing and marketing projects, and the conversion of redundant farm buildings. We have opened a new pig industry restructuring scheme, which will provide grants to outgoers reducing capacity and ongoers seeking to make their operations more efficient. We successfully contained and eliminated the recent swine fever outbreak in East Anglia and invented from scratch the pig welfare disposal scheme to give unprecedented compensation to pig farmers affected by movement restrictions. Those are not the pig farmers who suffered directly from the classical swine fever outbreak, but those who were affected by the movement restrictions that were necessary to control it.

In November, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced the abolition of vehicle excise duty on tractors and agricultural vehicles and the halving of excise duty on lorries. He is freezing all road fuel and oil duties and, as the House knows, he will be cutting by 3p a litre duty on ultra-low sulphur diesel and petrol. Furthermore, in the light of the severe difficulties caused to farmers by recent flooding, we have proposed to allow some flexibility in CAP scheme rules so that those who suffered from flooding do not lose their subsidy payments. I am pleased to tell the House that Commissioner Franz Fischler has written to confirm that those exceptional changes can be made.

In partnership with the Small Business Service and business links, we have launched the farm business advice service. In the service's first four months, almost 3,000 farmers have requested consultations and more than 1,300 initial consultation visits have been made. However, whatever action we take to help farmers through in the short term, a longer-term strategy is needed. I understand that the political cycle is coming to a close and that the hon. Member for South Suffolk wishes to make a robust contribution. However, his remarks did not make the Conservatives' long-term strategy clear to me. Indeed, I suspect that they did not do so for any hon. Member.

Several hon. Members:

rose

Photo of John Hayes John Hayes Shadow Minister (Education) (Schools)

The sort of long-term vision and strategic perspective on agriculture that the Secretary of State describes has been continually called for by the Select Committee on Agriculture, virtually ever since the Government came to power. When I was a member of that Select Committee—the hon. Member for South Derbyshire (Mr. Todd), who will also remember this, is present—it asked the previous Minister and the current Minister to provide exactly such a vision. What does the Minister envisage with regard to the number of farmers who will work in the sector, and to production levels over five or 10 years? Those are the questions that need to be answered. Will he answer them today?

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

Oddly enough, I was about to give the hon. Gentleman the answer that he seeks, but I was wondering whether somebody would first spell out the Conservative party's vision.

Photo of Mr Patrick Nicholls Mr Patrick Nicholls Conservative, Teignbridge

Now that the European Commission has published a damning report on the French Government's failure to take effective measures to stop the spread of BSE, is there not an unanswerable case that the Commission should impose an embargo on French meat? If it will not take such action, does not the Minister owe it to consumers and farmer alike to impose a ban on importing French meat? Those would be practical steps and he could take them. We would do so; will he?

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

In fairness to the hon. Gentleman, that is a partial response—protectionism and a trade war.

Photo of Tim Boswell Tim Boswell Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Spokesperson (Education and Employment)

Before the Secretary of State completes his self-congratulatory list of all the things that he claims to have done to redress problems in agriculture—problems that are at least partly of his own making—will he tell the House whether he will add in the tax income forgone by his Government? The collapse in farm profits means that the Treasury has had no profits to tax.

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

The list is not intended to be self-congratulatory. Nobody has yet explained how the problems that I have outlined, including BSE, flat world commodity prices and the weakness of the euro, are my personal fault. I shall wait to hear the hon. Gentleman's thesis on that point. We should not be quarrelling over forgone tax or the need to return farm businesses to profitability and to ensure a decent return on the work and capital that are put in.

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

There is one issue with which the Minister has not wholly dealt. According to the National Farmers Union, £202 million in agrimonetary compensation can be claimed by the end of April. Is he going to get that money?

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

We have just had that discussion. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman came in a bit late. I confirm that the figure to which he referred is approximately correct, although we will not know the final figures until later in the month.

Photo of Mr David Prior Mr David Prior Chief Executive & Deputy Chair, Conservative Party

The Conservatives would do two things. First, we would insist on radical reform of the common agricultural policy. Secondly, we would exclude sugar from the everything but arms talks that are currently under way.

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

I knew that if I tried hard enough, we would get there. The hon. Gentleman makes two strong points. Reform of the common agricultural policy has to be at the heart of any strategy that the British Government adopt. Moreover, that should not divide us; the previous Conservative Government pursued a reform agenda. I gently point out that pursuing it by quarrelling with all the partners whose support one hopes to gain is not the best way to proceed. At least they pursued such an agenda, however.

The hon. Member for North Norfolk (Mr. Prior) is right. We have an essentially protectionist regime for the sugar sector. Sugar is produced in the European Union at approximately three times the world market price. We produce 40 per cent. more than we consume and we get rid of the surplus with export refunds on the international market, much to the distress of our major trading partners, who would also like to sell to those markets at real rather than supported prices. In those circumstances, it is not sensible to open the market to large amounts of the product at a lower price. It would simply cause more disruption.

The hon. Gentleman is right; reform of the sugar regime and the everything but arms initiative must be considered together. It would not be consistent to retain one policy without reforming the other.

Photo of Nigel Evans Nigel Evans Vice-Chair, Conservative Party

The Minister is courteous, as ever. I have asked him several times about farming in the Ribble valley, but I shall change tack a little. On Friday, I was with Mr. Eddie Topping of Barton Grange, a horticulturist in my constituency. He employs 35 people in winter and 70 people in summer. He says that the introduction of the climate change levy will have an enormous knock-on effect on horticulture in this country. We will scrap that levy. Will the Minister campaign to persuade the Chancellor to abolish the climate change levy?

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

The levy is supposed to be neutral, as was pointed out earlier. If it is Opposition policy to scrap the levy, they will not be able to spend the fruits of it. Their policy must also be to adjust national insurance accordingly.

Photo of Nigel Evans Nigel Evans Vice-Chair, Conservative Party

Will the Minister direct his remarks to horticulture, which will be hit by the climate change levy? He knows that the introduction of that stealth tax will affect employment in the industry. What will he do about it?

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

It is inevitable that the hon. Gentleman wants to stress the part of the debate that he believes will tell for the Conservative party, but he is not willing to face the consequences. That characterises Conservative policy generally. The Opposition urge me to spend more money, and they say that they will cut taxes and reduce public expenditure. I presume that they will not cut expenditure on agriculture.

The hon. Gentleman asked specifically about the horticulture sector. We were engaged in discussions with the Chancellor before the climate change levy was introduced. We secured concessionary arrangements for horticulture, and I am in continuing dialogue with those in the sector to ascertain what more can be done to achieve the Government's objectives, as well as those of the industry.

Photo of Nigel Evans Nigel Evans Vice-Chair, Conservative Party

They do not want to pay that tax.

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 unusual. If one asks people whether they want to pay tax, they tend to say no. Well done the Conservative party for discovering that. However, there are consequences when people do not pay taxes. The Opposition should spend a little time considering that. I do not know whether the Conservative party still bothers to address the electorate as an audience. However, the electorate will not find the Opposition's policies plausible. On every aspect of Government spending, they call for more, while claiming that they will spend less overall and be able to cut taxation. Such an achievement would be miraculous. I await the day when someone spells out how it can be done.

Let me discuss what needs to be done to help British agriculture in the medium term. Reform of the common agricultural policy is needed. It is an expensive instrument, which costs the British approximately £8 billion a year. Agricultural protectionism is unsustainable in the face of remorseless trends towards further trade liberalisation. There was a time, although perhaps this does not apply now, when such a remark would not have been exceptional coming from Conservative Members. Now, they look at me as though it were a terrible thing to say.

Most importantly, as I think we can all agree, the common agricultural policy is failing to deliver its objectives of ensuring a fair standard of living for farmers and reasonably priced food for consumers. It encourages over production, leading to food surpluses and widespread degradation of the rural environment. In 1999, the Agenda 2000 reforms signalled the beginnings of a new common agricultural policy based around the instruments of the rural development regulation.

The Government are strongly committed to what is known as the second pillar of the CAP. We have committed an extra £472 million over seven years—that is extra money—for rural development programmes across the United Kingdom, of which £300 million is extra money—the match funding for modulation—for England.

The England rural development programme is an ambitious combination of environmental and economic development measures. It will cost £1.6 billion over seven years. That represents a 60 per cent. increase in the baseline expenditure. Spending on the countryside stewardship scheme will increase more than fourfold. Spending on organic farming will be tripled. Spending on farm woodlands will double, and we are reintroducing the processing and marketing grants scrapped under the previous Government. There will be new measures, such as a £152 million rural enterprise scheme, and new money for training and for the development of energy crops.

The rural White Paper contains further measures to help farmers. The Government are revising planning guidance so that it will be easier for farmers to make successful applications for diversification projects. We plan to grant time-limited rate relief for farm diversification projects.

Photo of Mr Simon Thomas Mr Simon Thomas Plaid Cymru, Ceredigion

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman. He mentioned organic farming and the rural White Paper for England. For the first time, there is an acceptance of a target for organic farming buried in the detail. Will the Minister consider developing that into a more ambitious target and developing the action plan needed to achieve it? Will he consider doing that early in the next Parliament?

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

The figures to which the hon. Gentleman refers are forecast outcomes, not targets. Indeed, the Select Committee has cautioned against setting targets. There might be consensus in the House on that, although perhaps not entirely. I understand that there are similar arrangements in place in other parts of the United Kingdom. In any event, we all envisage an expansion in the amount of farming given over to organic farming, for three good reasons: it is environmentally friendly; it is what consumers want, and it is right that the Government should try to underpin consumer choice; and it is an economically rational way forward for farmers, because of the premium that organically produced goods command in the marketplace. Those are the reasons for providing support for organic farming.

The Government are doing more. On small abattoirs, the Food Standards Agency will be implementing the recommendations of the Maclean report on meat hygiene service charging. We are improving public services such as transport, health care and education in rural areas. We are providing more affordable housing for rural communities, and new funds to revitalise market towns.

Work is under way across Government to make regulation less burdensome for British farmers. I agree that the Government have a duty to bear down on unnecessary red tape in farming, just as they do with other businesses. We have already pledged that there will be no gold-plating or early implementation of European regulations. The Opposition motion claims that British agriculture is disadvantaged by over-regulation. In fact, Lord Haskins' report for the better regulation taskforce found no evidence that regulation creates a competitive disadvantage for British farmers. The taskforce made a wide range of constructive recommendations, and we will soon publish a positive response to the report.

The Government have accepted 98 of the 107 recommendations of the first three industry-led red tape working groups. Further reviews of farm inputs and veterinary medicines are under way. We continue to press ahead with animal disease reduction strategies. We are strengthening our strategy for tackling the spread of bovine TB, and increasing resources for TB testing. We have increased the compensation payments from 75 to 100 per cent. for cattle slaughtered as TB suspects. We are committed to completing the Krebs-Bourne trial. All 10 matched triplets are now in place and we hope for results by 2004, or possibly earlier.

The 2000 spending review provides £115 million for the national plan to get as close as we can to eliminating scrapie from the national sheep flock. We are considering the BSE inquiry report and its 167 wide-ranging recommendations. I hope to present the Government's substantive interim response to the House very soon, and business managers have provisionally scheduled the debate for 15 February.

A lot can be done to help British farmers by improving the way in which the food chain operates. That was the finding of the high level food chain working group that brought together leading figures from the farming, food processing, manufacturing, distribution and retail sectors. At the heart of the matter is the fact that every part of the food chain has a vested interest in the long-term success of every other part. The working group found the need for more communication and co-operation throughout the food chain, from farm to fork.

The group's work is being put to practical use in the new taskforce that has been brought together to examine the workings of the dairy supply chain. No matter how hard pressed dairy producers are, what the Government can do to help is limited. The real answer to the producer problems in the sector is to be found in the marketplace and in the supply chain.

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

I shall give way in a moment.

I warmly welcome the National Farmers Union's new British farm standard tractor mark, which allows shoppers clearly to identify foods produced to British farm assurance standards.

Photo of Gwyneth Dunwoody Gwyneth Dunwoody Labour, Crewe and Nantwich

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend. Is it true that there are instances of France or other countries sending produce to this country marked with a red tractor, carrying wording that implies that the produce reaches the same standard without making it clear that it is not British? People want to buy British food, but we need an efficient system that enables them to identify it.

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

My understanding of the position is that the answer to my hon. Friend's question must be no. Although it would be possible for any supplier to this country to join the quality assurance mark scheme, it would not be proper for a non-member to use that mark and claim the quality assurance. The red tractor is a British quality assurance mark, not a point of origin mark. If people want to make a point of origin claim, it is perfectly lawful to do so. Suppliers from Germany, France, the United Kingdom and different parts of the United Kingdom can make a point of origin claim provided that it is truthful. They must comply with the trading standards legislation. Enforcement is a matter for the trading standards authorities, just as the lead agency on labelling is now the Food Standards Agency.

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

I had promised to give way to the hon. Member for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine, but with the courtesy that is so common among Liberal Democrats, he allows me to take this intervention.

Photo of Mr Christopher Gill Mr Christopher Gill Conservative, Ludlow

I am grateful to the Minister for giving way. Does he really think that it would be wrong to insist on mandatory country of origin labelling? Such labelling would allow the question asked by the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody) to be answered truthfully, and consumers could see exactly which country produce came from.

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

I believe that consumers have a right to know the origin of product as well a right to a factual description of product. Indeed, on the beef labelling scheme, European Union law is moving in that direction. I shall say more about that, but first I give way to the hon. Member for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine.

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

I thank the Minister for giving way. He talks about the medium term, and mentioned marketplaces a while back. For farmers in countries outside the eurozone, what replacement for agrimonetary compensation does he think will develop to deal with the marketplace in the European Union?

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

The development of the agrimonetary regime and the enlargement of the EU are both big questions, but the hon. Gentleman should focus on the fact that as more and more member states join a single currency—indeed, it is a condition of membership for the candidate countries that they will come into the single currency arrangements—the case for agrimonetary compensation, which is, after all, designed to compensate for currency movements, rather recedes. I would not have thought that the agrimonetary regime was among the many concerns that the candidate countries have, but I stand to be corrected.

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

The United Kingdom is outside the eurozone, and British farmers are concerned about what will happen to them in future as a result of currency fluctuations in the single market.

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

The point that I am trying to make to the hon. Gentleman is that we are not the only country concerned about that, but we are increasingly becoming the only country for which it is a substantial issue of interest. I cannot stand up today and announce a successor regime.

As the hon. Gentleman knows, the payments are made in tranches over three-year periods— half the total money in the first year, a third in the second year, and a sixth in the third year. When the regime comes to an end, will there be successor arrangements? I cannot stand at the Dispatch Box and say that there will. I am pointing the hon. Gentleman to substantial factors in the international arrangements for the European Union that rather suggest the opposite.

I do not want to make a definitive statement now, as I am not in a position to do so. However, as I have said before, it would be wrong for British agriculture constantly to look to the supply side of the common agricultural policy, including the agrimonetary arrangements, for its future. The direction, I think, is very different.

We have clamped down on misleading country of origin labelling. It is illegal now to sell imported food as British just because it has been repacked or processed in the UK. As I said in reply to the intervention from my hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody), trading standards officers have the power to undertake prosecutions.

Following the report of the Competition Commission, the Office of Fair Trading is working on a statutory code of practice for the major retailers, governing their relationships with suppliers. That will complement the voluntary code developed by the Institute of Grocery Distribution. I strongly encourage the industry to take that up. In part, that answers the hon. Member for Ribble Valley, who has moved to the Front Bench. It is good to see him there.

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

I am grateful to the Minister for giving way. Will he clarify his remark that it is now illegal to describe as British in origin a product that underwent only its last process in Britain. Which legislation has made that illegal? I understood that the right hon. Gentleman had only issued guidance to trading standards officers. Guidelines do not have the force of law.

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

Guidelines are exactly that: they guide trading standards officers in their enforcement activities. Of course, the law is ultimately interpreted by the courts, not by politicians. Every experienced parliamentarian is familiar with that.

I did everything that I could with the regime, before it transferred, with the Food Standards Agency, to the Department of Health. If Conservative Members had really cared they had 18 years to tighten up the regime.

I shall spell out the policies that we are putting in place to help farming through very difficult times. We are providing direct financial support, practical help to individual farm businesses and a long-term vision for the future.

The House will search in vain to find such measures in the Opposition's motion. Let us consider what the Opposition propose. They call for "honesty in food-labelling". That implies that we do not have that at present, and that for the 18 years they were in government, we did. As I understand it, they mean compulsory country of origin labelling of food. That is an occupied field in the European Union.

The Opposition know full well that by acting unilaterally on food labelling, we would be in breach of the rules of the European single market. We are lobbying the Commission for improvements in Community food labelling laws. In particular, we strongly support proposals for country of origin labelling of beef throughout the single market as a first step in that direction. In the meantime, however, as I said a moment ago, there is nothing to stop British producers labelling their produce as British. The NFU's tractor mark clearly identifies a wide range of high-quality foods produced to British farm assurance standards, and, as I have said, it is illegal to suggest that food is British if it is not.

The Opposition motion calls for a restriction in the flow of food imports. Although food standards are now a matter for the Food Standards Agency, in which health Ministers lead, I assure the House that the Government will not hesitate to ban imports that present a risk to human or animal health; but as most Opposition Members know, banning imports for other reasons is illegal under European law. Those who do not know that are welcome to consult the Government's legal advice, which I placed in the House of Commons Library more than a year ago.

Photo of Mr Patrick Nicholls Mr Patrick Nicholls Conservative, Teignbridge

The right hon. Gentleman is characteristically generous.

In my earlier intervention, I said that I was not calling for a trade war. I was saying that action should be taken when there was evidence from the European Commission that the French Government had not taken sufficient steps to prevent the spread of BSE. No one is asking the Secretary of State to start a trade war; we merely ask him to accept that there is overwhelming evidence—from the European Commission itself—that the import of French beef is not safe. If the right hon. Gentleman will not act even when it is a question of public safety, why on earth does he think that anyone should take him seriously when he dismisses the evidence and accuses us of starting a trade war?

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

I suggest that the hon. Gentleman should take more interest in current affairs. He will have noted that the House has passed legislation setting up the Food Standards Agency, that the responsibilities that he urges me to carry out are now matters for the Secretary of State for Health, and that Government collectively are now professionally advised by the agency—

The hon. Gentleman would like to ban French imports for chauvinist and protectionist reasons, and to present the outcome as though it were a food safety measure. If there were a food safety reason, we would be told by Sir John Krebs, the head of the agency, and the Secretary of State for Health would produce legislation to protect the public. What the hon. Gentleman cannot do is wish into existence a food safety reason to disguise what are, in fact, anti-European and ideological reasons. That is not a rational way to proceed.

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

I am sure that the Minister would not wish to mislead the House unwittingly. He tried to suggest that the Conservative party was advocating an illegal action in terms of a ban on imports on grounds other than health. He will be aware, however, that under the treaties imports can be prohibited or restricted on grounds of public morality. On 22 June last year, he gave me the following written answer; 'Public morality' is not susceptible to an absolute definition: it inevitably involves subjective judgment … The European Court of Justice has held that in principle it is for each member state to determine in accordance with its own scale of values the requirements of public morality in its territory."—[Official Report, 22 June 2000; Vol. 352, c. 300–01W.]

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

Because I quite like the hon. Gentleman—although it does not always show—I shall rescue him from the folly towards which he is slowly drifting, in terms of protectionist sentiments.

The fact is that this law has been much invoked and much tested by the courts. I am thinking of, for instance, a case with which I suspect some former Conservative Ministers sitting behind the hon. Gentleman will be very familiar—the one relating to veal calves; but Conservative Governments have got themselves into trouble before by going down the protectionist route. I remember Lord Walker, then Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, banning the importing of turkeys from France—

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

Indeed, but it was also found to be illegal, and the court case cost the British taxpayer a substantial sum.

Let me also remind the House of the Factortame dispute, which had similar protectionist origins. If Conservative Members find no other argument persuasive, however, let me cite self-interest. As a nation, we export some £10 billion worth of food and drink per year, and hundreds of thousands of jobs are involved in those important British industries. More than half of that is exported to the European Union. What is the sense in putting all that in jeopardy? The case for protectionism is always very specific. The case for free trade is general, but it is overwhelming.

There was a time when Conservative Members stood for trade, markets and freedom to buy and sell things without restraint—but not now. The response from the hon. Member for South Suffolk is very English and very protectionist. If things carry on as they are, he will be promising to reintroduce the Navigation Acts and there will be a fight in the Conservative party over the corn laws. That is the direction in which Conservative Members are going—back to the future with a vengeance.

I do not ask Conservative Members to take my advice; perhaps they can take the advice of the right hon. Member for Skipton and Ripon ( Mr. Curry). He told the House that he could not imagine a single action more calculated to extinguish the last flicker of life in hill farming in north Yorkshire than encouraging a trade war that puts at risk 136 million worth of live lamb exports to France".—[Official Report, 28 October 1999; Vol. 336, c. 1146.]

In opening the debate, the hon. Member for South Suffolk gave the House no indication of how much of the £16 billion Tory cuts guarantee would fall on farming.

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

I had a feeling that the Minister would try to get on to this point. I make it absolutely clear that not a single penny will be found from the agriculture budget to fund the substantial and popular Tory tax cuts.

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

I knew that I was right to say that I actually quite like the hon. Gentleman, and I thank him for that. Would he like to intervene again and explain where the money is coming from? More fair-minded than that one cannot get. Then perhaps he could help me on this: which Opposition Front-Bench spokesman can explain to me where the cuts would fall?

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

The shadow Chancellor will explain that, because that is his job. The Minister has been notable in refusing to answer questions on the pesticide tax and the climate change levy because they are Treasury matters. I tell him fair and square that we will not cut the agriculture budget by a single penny to fund our tax cuts. We will, if we have to chance to do so before 30 April, claim the agrimonetary compensation in full. The Minister, however, refuses to say anything 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 know that the hon. Gentleman is only shadowing a ministerial job, but I do not think that he will get very far just by blaming the shadow Chancellor. What if the shadow Chancellor were ever to become the real Chancellor? Still, I am grateful.

The hon. Gentleman says that he is planning to keep to our spending plans. I thank him for that; no cuts in agriculture spending; our spending plans are the right ones; Conservative Members would do what we do—but the electorate may be tempted just to let us get on and do it. If he stuck to our plans, how would he finance the new raft of policies set out in "Fair Deal for Farming", the Conservative party's policy document? If it is his intention—this is implicit in his remark—to finance it by taking money from policies that we are spending money on and spending that on other policies that he wants, will he say which policies those will be—or will there be more money for agriculture? The hon. Gentleman has no response; farmers will be interested in that.

Paice:

This is an Opposition debate.

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

Yes. However, the hon. Member for South Suffolk was speaking confidently of winning the general election. Although I am not sure that much of the public think that that is a real possibility, if he does think that, surely he should say what he will spend money on.

Photo of Mr Christopher Gill Mr Christopher Gill Conservative, Ludlow

The Minister is obviously running out of material. May I ask him a question that relates to tax? Who will pay for the continental purchase for slaughter and destruction scheme? Will it be the taxpayers of the countries in which the cattle are slaughtered or the European taxpayer—which of course would include the British taxpayer? Would that not be in stark contrast to what the British taxpayer had to do on our own BSE initiatives?

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 is absolutely right. The purchase-for-destruction scheme puts enormous pressure on the budget for the common agricultural policy, which has a ceiling. He is also right about Ministers having to discuss a range of ways in which to move forward. That includes national contributions, which I would not rule out. Clearly, much depends on how much pressure is put on the scheme. If that pressure is as substantial as some of the estimates now being discussed in the public domain suggest, the implication is that the costs will go well beyond the budget ceiling for the regime that has to deal with it. The hon. Gentleman is right: this is a very big question indeed.

We have had the political knockabout, and I regret that there has been no real response from Opposition Front-Bench Members.

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 says that I have taken a long time, but in debates such as this there is a straight choice to be made when it comes to interventions. I am always generous in that regard, as I know that hon. Members like to intervene on the Minister, but the quid pro quo is that interventions take time out of the debate. The hon. Gentleman cannot have it both ways: he cannot complain about the time and then also want to intervene.

I accept that there are difficulties facing agriculture, and that it is right to debate the way forward. I have made it clear that we are listening. I have set out what we have worked hard to provide in the short term, and I have addressed the longer-term considerations. We have an action plan, and we are delivering on that vision.

I call upon the House to support the amendment in the names of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and myself, and to reject the motion.

Photo of Mrs Gillian Shephard Mrs Gillian Shephard Conservative, South West Norfolk 5:31, 1 February 2001

I am extremely grateful to be called to contribute to the debate, and I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for South Suffolk (Mr. Yeo) on the way in which he introduced it.

I am glad that the Minister, at the end of his speech, finally found it in himself to agree that agriculture was in crisis. A survey compiled by a firm of accountants based in Norwich and published in the Eastern Daily Press last September showed that farm incomes in Norfolk have fallen by 50 per cent. over the past four years. That is before losses due to fuel tax and swine fever are taken into account.

The Government's own figures, reproduced by the National Farmers Union, show that total income from farming fell by 29 per cent. in real terms in the year 2000, compared with 1999. In other words, in one year there has been a fall of more than 70 per cent., and farm incomes are at their lowest for three generations. Bank borrowings now amount to some £10 billion, and investment levels are at their lowest since 1970.

In England and Wales, more people have left the land over the past two years than in living memory. It behoves the Minister to admit that he is presiding over a crisis. He has repeated today that he is sympathetic and concerned. That, of course, is what we get from Ministers.

The Minister has said—correctly—that some funds are being invested in agriculture and in rural areas. It is true that some of the schemes are useful and that some can help. However, I wonder whether the Minister has any idea of the time, effort and frustration involved in applying for the multiplicity of schemes that he is putting in place, and on which he is relying to be able to say that he is responding to the crisis. Does he realise that the difficulty involved in applying for the aid that he says he is spreading about, and the amount of regulation that he is loading on the industry, are combining to cause the industry to sink slowly from view?

I wrote to the Minister nearly a month ago about the plight of my constituent, Mr. James Nelstrop of Roudham. I have not, of course received a reply—I do not expect one from the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food any more so the matter is absolutely academic.

Last May, Mr. Nelstrop submitted an application under the stewardship scheme. He took considerable trouble preparing the application, and engaged in full discussion with MAFF and regional officials. He was given to understand that the work was in order. However, at the last minute MAFF told him that he was ineligible, as his farm was eight miles from an airfield.

In fact, Mr. Nelstrop had not moved his farm, and the airfield was where it had been for 50 years. It was merely that after he had spent nearly £10,000 to do the work required to prepare the application, his farm's location became evident to the Ministry.

Mr. Nelstrop has written to me about the other efforts that he has made. He says that immediately post-Budget, in March, he applied to the regional development office for details of the redundant farm buildings scheme—one of the schemes mentioned by the Minister. Mr. Nelstrop says that after making several telephone calls, he received the forms in late July. Having compiled a draft application, he was informed that the money available had to be spent by the end of January 2001 but that the application could not be considered until formal planning permission had been received. The earliest planning decision had to be taken by 21 September last year, the earliest scheme application decision by 21 October last year. Clearly it was impossible for this farmer to carry out the work in the three months of the worst weather period, including Christmas and the new year, because it would take six months to do. The scheme was abandoned, at an additional cost to his business of £500.

Mr. Nelstrop then decided to use a new Government scheme to help fund restoration and conversion of redundant buildings. He had three meetings with the Forest Heath development officer and was advised that he should consider conversion to small offices. Following discussions with MAFF in Cambridge, he decided to proceed. He applied to the Forest Heath district council for change of use and has now been told that it is Suffolk county council's policy to oppose rural development on the basis that it is not sustainable, owing to lack of public transport.

What I have recounted is the cumulative experience of one farmer who is trying to make a living and trying to use the schemes that the Minister is congratulating himself on putting in place. Mr. Nelstrop adds: Small businesses do not have the resources to deal with this legislation, filling in the forms, reading, remembering and implementing all the rules (even if you know where to look for the ones that may apply to your business). Add to this the time, costs and risks in applying for Government assistance programs, less and less of our time is available for the core business. Eventually this will lead to the demise of small businesses and the basis of our economy/society as we have come to know it.

Photo of John Hayes John Hayes Shadow Minister (Education) (Schools)

Is it not also the case that those most vulnerable and hard hit—such as tenant armers—those in very isolated areas, and smaller farmers find it harder to take advantage of these schemes? Diversification, in particular, does not mean a lot to someone who farms poor land, lives in an isolated community or is a tenant farmer.

Photo of Mrs Gillian Shephard Mrs Gillian Shephard Conservative, South West Norfolk

That is one of the points that I want to get home to the Minister this afternoon. I want him to understand that before he congratulates himself on these schemes, he should do an audit on the amount of paperwork, frustration and abortive effort that he and his schemes mean for the agriculture industry. He seems to believe that they are the solution to the problems in the industry, but he needs first to understand and remove the reefs and hurdles he has put in place because, believe me, they are making everything much worse.

Of course, along with the Minister and most people in the Chamber, I support greater diversity in British agriculture and the production of non-food crops. However, I question the kind of thinking that means that my constituents can tell me that there are plenty of funds available for camomile co-operatives, for example, while at the same time I hear of redundancies at the Wissington sugar factory.

It must also be evident to the Minister that there is a certain irony in the Government's trumpeting of special funds to help the economy of Great Yarmouth, while they also pursue policies that could result in the closure of the Cantley sugar factory a few miles from Yarmouth, and which will also deal a hammer blow to trade in the Great Yarmouth docks. There again, perhaps not—after all, a Minister who, in the week in which he and his colleagues vote to ban hunting, can announce the appointment of a Minister for the horse may not possess a highly developed sense of irony.

The Government say that they sympathise with the current crisis in agriculture, but they have provided little effective help. Although there have been a lot of words and efforts, they have sometimes made things worse. The technical aspects of the outbreak of classical swine fever in East Anglia were dealt with very professionally by MAFF officials, and I took the trouble to write to the Minister to tell him so. However, my constituents continue to be nerve-racked, not only because many of them have lost thousands of pounds—some of them hundreds of thousands of pounds—but because, six months on from the original outbreak, they still face uncertainty about the eventual compensation.

On sugar beet, do the Government support the everything but arms initiative, which would threaten 23,000 jobs in the British economy, or do they support the on-going EU review of the sugar regime? As the Minister has said, they are not compatible either they must be made compatible, or the Minister must say which side he is on. We have not heard much from any Minister on that matter.

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

My policy is not very different from the one that the right hon. Lady pursued when she was a Minister.

Photo of Mrs Gillian Shephard Mrs Gillian Shephard Conservative, South West Norfolk

The policy that I pursued, which was for an on-going review of the sugar regime, was not threatened by the everything but arms initiative, supported by other branches of the Government of which I was a member. That is the right hon. Gentleman's position.

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 sorry that the right hon. Lady does not understand why she pursued that policy as a Minister; but the truth is that, yes, the regime was threatened by market access, regardless of whether that came under a regime specifically tailored to the poorest countries in the world, or whether it came more generally. That is precisely the reason why she used to argue that the existing sugar regime was not sustainable, and why I argue that now.

Photo of Mrs Gillian Shephard Mrs Gillian Shephard Conservative, South West Norfolk

The Minister should use a great deal more force in that case, and perhaps a little more knowledge. Ten days ago the European Commission reported on its website that it had decided to adopt a new timetable for duty and tariffs on imports of cane sugar to start from 2006. I think I am right to say that the original plan for the EBA proposals was that they should begin on 1 January 2001. That news was reported widely in the farming press and welcomed, but Ministers said nothing, so we could be forgiven for thinking that they either had not noticed or did not know.

Last week, therefore, I tabled questions to the Minister and to the Minister for Trade to ask for clarification. After four days, they gave holding replies, so I assume that they did not know that the Commission had changed its mind. If they did know, why did they give holding replies? Why did they refer me to the position before Christmas in their definitive answers?

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

The right hon. Lady could always turn up during oral questions to ask about those matters.

Photo of Mrs Gillian Shephard Mrs Gillian Shephard Conservative, South West Norfolk

I do not think the right hon. Gentleman gave any indication of that position during oral questions this morning. Perhaps the Minister of State will give an answer in winding-up the debate. Although she usually answers by saying that she will place a letter in the Library, I shall ask her the questions that she should answer in summing up today. Has the Commission changed its policy? Is the starting date now 2006? Was the farming press right to welcome the change? Did she and her colleagues know about it? If so, why was I not given the correct answer to my question?

The simple conclusion, even from this exchange, is that Ministers have so little understanding of the real issues affecting agriculture, and so little appreciation that agriculture is the cornerstone of the rural economy, that they think the schemes and plans that they put about are helping, whereas they are in fact stifling with regulations the industry's ability to produce the crops that the market needs. It is time for a change in rural Britain, and we will have one.

Photo of David Drew David Drew Labour/Co-operative, Stroud 5:44, 1 February 2001

I am delighted to take part in this debate. I begin by responding to the right hon. Member for South-West Norfolk (Mrs. Shephard). It is somewhat cheap to concentrate only on what is apparently a national crisis, although I shall make some points about its British dimension. After my recent visit to Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland with the Select Committee on Agriculture, it is evident to me that every agricultural system in the developed world is undergoing problems at present.

In the Irish Republic, a huge changeover from full-time to part-time farming is under way, with all the repercussions that one might imagine. We cannot and must not identify the crisis as purely a British problem—although there are problems for which not only the Labour Government but the previous Conservative Government have responsibility. There is a British dimension; we have additional difficulties that are only too well known—BSE, bovine tuberculosis and the recent floods all add to a legacy of problems that the Government have to do their best to sort out.

I am glad that the problems of the CAP have been mentioned. My political perspective means that I have never been a great fan of the CAP—let alone many aspects of the EU—but at least we are moving in the right direction. The problem is that there have been wild fluctuations in policy: from our own deficiency payment system, to price support systems and sectoral support payments, right up to the type of initiatives that many of us want for agriculture, not only in this country but throughout the western world—support for countryside management and rural development regulations that would ensure that agriculture was genuinely environment-friendly.

Photo of John Hayes John Hayes Shadow Minister (Education) (Schools)

I know that the hon. Gentleman takes an assiduous interest in these matters. Agenda 2000 was heralded as the great opportunity to reform the CAP exactly as he describes, yet once it was implemented, it was widely regarded as a damp squib. Surely the changes that he describes may take a generation or more—by which time, there will be precious few farmers left in Britain.

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

I have some sympathy for the hon. Gentleman's argument. Agenda 2000 was a missed opportunity—less in this country than for other EU Governments. They must rue the day they did not make radical and more dramatic changes. We must continue to push them to ensure that they do so in the future.

At present, the most important matter is how to provide support to those farmers who so desperately need it. In the initial exchanges between Front-Bench speakers, we were reminded that for every pound raised in compensatory payments, 69p has to come from our Treasury. Looking back, one sees that it was no great success—to save our budget then could cost us much more money in future. However, we know that and we must build it into our calculations.

None of that would be necessary if we did not have to engage in all the fiddles and fudges of the exchange rate. I blame the CAP in particular; that was bound to lead to disaster. No country can rely indefinitely on a depreciating currency to finance its farmers. The currency began to appreciate under the previous Conservative Government and that continued under Labour, but unfortunately there are repercussions, on top of many other problems.

I hope that we shall debate BSE in a fortnight, so I shall not discuss it at length now. However, we must never underestimate the extent of the problems caused by BSE. They do not affect only farmers in the livestock sector; there is an integrity in agriculture—all the sectors work together. Phillips exposed the problems caused by BSE—not only health problems but income difficulties that farmers continue to face. We must keep revisiting them.

Although I have some comments on regulation, we must get it into our head that, after all the problems and all that we have learned, merely to remove regulation is not the way to rebuild confidence in our food chain. It would do just the opposite. Although it is schadenfreude to talk about what other countries are going through—we heard the earlier exchanges about those horrible French and those horrible Germans—at least we can give them a few lessons. However, we must never let the idea that we welcome their plight enter our consciousness. British beef farmers will also suffer because there will again be a lack of confidence in beef, and in other meat.

We must consider regulation and take up the arguments of Lord Haskins and the work of the three working parties that were set up by the Government to examine red tape. We must understand that it is possible to gold-plate some sectors, but we can do that only if we take a measured approach and are careful how we reduce the number of regulations. We must also ensure that regulations are enforced in the most appropriate manner.

It concerns me when people talk about investigation as though it can automatically be carried out by people who have the time to do it. However, we put enormous pressure on trading standards officers, environmental health officers and the Meat Hygiene Service. We must support them in whatever way we can, and that often means finding more resources, and not fewer, as those who advocate less regulation sometimes argue.

I know that other Members wish to speak, so it would be wrong if I spoke for my whole 10 minutes. However, it is important to develop a partnership so that those involved with the different elements of the food chain can understand and work more effectively with each other. This debate comes at an important time for my constituency, because Dairy Crest has announced a rationalisation of the dairy processing sector. I declare an interest: my dairy was the biggest winner. Severnside has become the so-called super-dairy, but I do not claim that my lobbying prowess had anything to do with that. I am sad for the dairies that lost out.

However, it has long been argued that there is a need for rationalisation in the sector, and we must accept that. Farmers have always told me that although the price that they receive for milk is not high enough, they want to be in a sector that is more efficient. Such developments are taking place in the processing sector, and it would be nice to see them happening in retailing, so that retailers pay the going price, even though most of us believe that it is too low. If consumers pay a fair price, that will help to keep dairy and other farmers in production.

I have been saddened by the shake-out in the processing industry, so we need to examine how we can bring people together. For the past week or so, farmers from Farmers for Action have been demonstrating outside the Severnside plant, and I gather that there will be a big demonstration tonight. Although I understand their frustration, that is not the way to build bridges.

Photo of Mr Nick Hawkins Mr Nick Hawkins Conservative, Surrey Heath

I do not know the particular circumstances of what the hon. Gentleman described as his dairy. However, I know that fanners throughout the country are angry. I declare an interest in that I come from a farming family. I have listened to what the hon. Gentleman said about shake-outs, but does he not realise that farmers are angry because of the inaction and incompetence of the Government whom he supports?

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

I wish I had not taken that intervention because it is so far from the truth as to be unreal.

If we are to have an effective national food chain in this country, the different sectors must come together. There is no more obvious example than the dairy industry, where there has been a poisonous atmosphere in the recent past. That has to be overcome, but the situation is not helped by farmers demonstrating, trying to shut down a dairy and intimidating people who, in the main, are paid much less than many of them, even in these difficult circumstances. I condemn that, as I hope the Opposition will. It is important that we find a way forward, and that will not be achieved by demonstrations and intimidation.

We understand the way in which the Government's policy is proceeding. There are matters on which I have something in common with the Opposition. There is a case for considering early retirement. I understand the arguments about dead weight and how it will be financed, and I know that my right hon. Friend the Minister considered that carefully. If we are to help those who are, unfortunately, to leave the industry, whether temporarily or permanently, or to work part-time, we must give them the means to make that move successfully.

There is a need for retraining, and I am pleased to hear about the Small Business Service and rural development regulations. We have to encourage more diversification. The environmental side of farming must be paid for by the Government, and the tourists who want to visit our wonderful countryside should contribute to its management.

Much is being done to help agriculture, and the industry has not been and will not be isolated, but is being viewed as part of the wider rural economy. That agenda has a cost. I am pleased that the Opposition have now agreed to ring-fence support for agriculture, along with health, education, defence and law and order. If they were given the opportunity, I should like to see them manage the Budget, given that they are also talking about tax cuts.

Photo of Mr Huw Edwards Mr Huw Edwards Labour, Monmouth

My hon. Friend made an interesting point confirming that the hon. Member for South Suffolk (Mr. Yeo) said that the Opposition would ring-fence the agriculture budget. Has he heard any confirmation of that from the shadow Chancellor?

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

No, but I am sure that in the days to come many Labour Members will be quizzing the hon. Member for South Suffolk about the spending commitment that he will have to meet.

There is much for the Government to be proud of, despite the current crisis. However, it was said earlier that farmers must not be given false hope. We have to provide them with a realistic way forward, and that will involve structural changes. The argument concerns how we fund those changes and ensure that agriculture can survive not only these immediate problems but long into the future.

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

Before I call the next Member to speak, I say to the House that although there is not a 10-minute limit on Back-Bench speeches in this debate, many Members are seeking to catch my eye, and it would be helpful if contributions were as brief as possible.

Photo of David Heath David Heath Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) 5:58, 1 February 2001

I am pleased that we have another opportunity to discuss agriculture, and I congratulate the official Opposition on providing that opportunity.

There is no doubt that we are still in the depths of a major crisis. Anyone who doubts that has only to look at the recently released estimates of farm income. Whatever slight improvement there may have been in the pig and poultry sectors, and possibly even in hill farming, one has only to look at the base from which they are improving to realise that they are still in the depths of a recession.

In other sectors, the problems are still getting worse. The net farm income in the dairy sector is only 20 per cent., in real terms, of what it was a decade ago. In cereals, the figure is only 25 per cent. Even more telling are the figures for cash income, which relate to farmers who work their own farm and do not pay a wage bill. Dairy farmers have experienced a 15 per cent. drop in their cash income since last year, and cereal farmers have suffered a 25 per cent. drop.

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

Has my hon. Friend noticed that the worst changes took place pre-BSE? The BSE disaster was not the cause of the present problem, although it has obviously aggravated the situation. Farm incomes have fallen by two thirds from 1995 onwards, pre-BSE.

Photo of David Heath David Heath Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

My hon. Friend is right. There has been a long-term decline in farming. It is almost impossible now to gain a living wage by working a small or medium-sized farm, without dipping into capital. The average income per farmer is £8,500, which is the lowest ever in real terms since records began. If we consider the comparators, only Sweden—I suspect that the figures for Sweden are not entirely accurate—and Portugal have lower average farm incomes than those in the United Kingdom. That is bad for the owner farmer, but at least he has capital employed in his farm. It is even worse for the tenant farmer, who does not have the satisfaction of knowing that he has assets on which he can call. We still wait for a retirement scheme that would allow many such farmers, especially those in late middle age, to retire with dignity.

Institutional landlords could play a part in ensuring that agricultural rents are a genuine reflection of agricultural profitability. I am not convinced that some institutional landlords, even those with a clear social intent such as the Church of England, have got their minds round what is required. It is not only agriculture directly that is involved—many other industries depend upon it.

The Government's responses, certainly during the period in office of the current Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, have been largely well intentioned. I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on the assiduity with which he has listened to what many of us have had to say in the Chamber, as well as, more importantly, to what many outside the House who are directly involved in agriculture have had to say.

Good intentions are not enough. Often schemes have been announced that have taken time to come to fruition. Often they have not delivered what was claimed for them. Some of the schemes to which the Minister referred are not in place and are not delivering. There is incompleteness about the Government's response. The good intentions of the Ministry are not necessarily matched by other areas of government.

We do not have joined-up government. We do not always have the co-operation of the Treasury, the Department of Trade and Industry and the other Departments that play a part. That is why we still have rather malign chuntering about the pesticides tax, which would be disastrous for cereal farmers were it to be introduced and implemented now. We still have the DTI taking what I think is a perverse view of Milk Marque. We still have the Treasury causing obstructions to carry-forwards, which are needed if the Minister is to do the job that he wants to do.

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

My hon. Friend has referred to the Department of Trade and Industry, which today announced, sadly, the loss of 6,000 jobs in the steel industry. Is he aware that in Wales, between 1998 and 2000, 6,000 farmers left the land?

Photo of David Heath David Heath Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. His intervention underlines the depth and scale of the problem that we face. Individual farmers do not show up in the statistics in the same way as a major plant closure. However, they are no less important because of that, and we should pay the same attention to them.

There is still uncertainty about the Government's intentions. There was a debate in serial fashion this afternoon on the future of agrimonetary compensation. I hope that the Minister will make an early announcement that he does intend to draw down on that. There may be a temptation to wait until three or four days before an election to make the point. I hope that he will not do that, and that there will be an earlier announcement.

I also hope that the Minister will give serious consideration—it is a point that I have raised repeatedly in debates on agriculture—to what will succeed the agrimonetary compensation mechanism. It is not good enough merely to hope that something will turn up. That is not doing our best for farmers. We are currently outside the eurozone. We are the only country that will be in such a position because of the weakness of the Swedish kronor and the fact that the Danish kroner is pegged to the euro. Our position is therefore unique, and we must persuade other EU countries that we need a mechanism to cope with it.

I should like to deal briefly with agricultural sectors. The dairy sector is close to my own heart, and is important in my Somerset constituency. I shall re-examine the scale of the milk problem. Output value is down by £273 million—10 per cent. of its value. That is the real problem: its beginning and end are the price that the farmer can get for the milk that he sells. Until we get that right, any amount of marketing and promotion will not cure the problem.

Photo of David Heath David Heath Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

If I give way to the hon. Gentleman, that will take time from other Members. However, I shall happily do so.

Photo of John Hayes John Hayes Shadow Minister (Education) (Schools)

I shall be brief.

Is that issue not indicative of a wider problem—the distortion of the food chain? The relationship between producer, retailer and consumer is distorted. Supermarkets play an important part because they carry a lot of responsibility for that distortion. That is the heart of the problem, which has not been addressed by the Government.

Photo of David Heath David Heath Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

The hon. Gentleman is right: that is precisely the point that I was about to make. However, the problem is not a new invention by the Government. The supermarkets were given much too free a rein under the previous Government, which they took, as any commercial business would. However, there is a gross distortion in the market. As the Minister knows, I was bitterly disappointed at the outcome of the Competition Commission report on supermarkets. It did not ask the right questions, so it came up with the wrong answers.

We need to re-examine seriously the dairy supply chain. On 16 November, in answer to the hon. Member for Monmouth (Mr. Edwards), whom I am pleased to see in the Chamber, the Minister spoke about the need to establish a group to consider the current problems. The Minister also gave a heavy hint that a report would be commissioned to study in depth the milk supply chain. That cannot come soon enough, as it would enable us to take the required remedial action.

The state of the beef market in Europe is extremely serious, not just for beef producers in Europe but for beef producers in this country. We underestimate that at our peril. I do not believe that even the European Commission, in its recent assessment of the situation, has estimated properly the difficulties that we may be about to experience. It assessed the reduction in domestic markets, but they will reduce much more than is currently estimated.

There is undue optimism about the ability of European Union countries, including the United Kingdom, to find export markets outside the EU. Exactly the same barriers that Britain experienced in the past will be put up against all EU beef. That will have a hugely distorting and possibly catastrophic effect on the beef regime under EU rules. I shall give the Minister a warning. He will be tempted to try to achieve consensus on public health, veterinary health and public safety in the Council of Ministers. However, he must not be tempted to allow our farmers and our taxpayers to pay twice for that problem, as could happen.

I also hope that the Minister will not accept measures to restore confidence that are entirely unjustified in this country. One matter currently on the table is the fishmeal ban. The Minister will know that there is not a problem here with possible cross-contamination between fishmeal and meat and bonemeal. A fishmeal ban would have a disastrous effect. I have a letter from Countrywide Farmers, based in Melksham near my constituency, which estimates that a ban would cost the feed industry £20 million, plus an annual £10 million because of transport costs. Those are substantial additional costs for our farmers and food producers.

Hon. Members have mentioned regulation, which is still an important issue for many of our farmers. I hear what is said about our pledge not to introduce gold-plating, but I take seriously the point made by the hon. Member for South Suffolk (Mr. Yeo) about the introduction of new regulations. Over-regulation stifles our farming industry, but we still do it. The 26 January edition of Farmers Weekly contains a report on the annual Lloyds TSB Scotland agricultural survey. It tells us of the estimate that farmers are spending the equivalent of more than five working weeks a year filling in government-generated forms. That still happens after the so-called war on red tape. We must deal with the matter. We need to introduce rights of appeal, simplify appeal mechanisms and establish an agricultural ombudsman who can challenge the decisions of MAFF inspectors. We also need to consider the effects of the new meat inspection regime.

We must also consider some of the simpler issues. I have received a letter from Mr. Paul Cary of Dangerfield farm in Buckland Dinham. Mr Cary, who is one of my constituents, speaks about the red tape associated with the slaughter premium scheme. I shall not take up time by dealing with that issue now, but I believe that it needs to be addressed and I shall write to the Minister about it.

I should like to mention the environmental schemes with which the Government have rightly pressed ahead. Countryside stewardship schemes and protection for environmentally sensitive areas should be promoted. Such schemes are in many ways the future of the common agricultural policy, and I hope that we will provide more support for those who maintain our countryside through them. However, I have serious concerns about the way in which they often operate. They must be redesigned and their scope should be increased. They need funding that is guaranteed year on year. If people enter such schemes, they must know that some bright spark in MAFF will not put a red line through the initial proposals at some later stage. The schemes must also reflect the realities of life. It is no good introducing a scheme that suddenly pays less, perhaps because the average farm income has fallen and the original investment decision was based on an assumption of income. We need to ensure that the arrangements are brought into line in order to guarantee farmers a future. We must also ensure that all such schemes have the correct design and focus.

Again, I do not want to take up too much time, but I should like briefly to refer the Minister to a study by the Environment Agency. I have enormous respect for much of the agency's work, but I am concerned about its impact statement on agriculture and the environment. If he turns to the pages on the environmental external costs of agriculture, he will see statements that, in my opinion, cannot be substantiated and do not reflect the true costs of agriculture. There is a problem with such information: if the agriculture industry can see that it is not real and that it does not reflect genuine circumstances, people will turn away in droves and we will not achieve our objectives. I invite the Minister to consider the statement and to reflect on whether its accounting is correct.

I considered the motion carefully and I believe that much of the analysis that it contains is correct. Indeed, I think that Opposition Members have identified in the motion many of the Government's failures. The problem is, however, that almost every single one of those failures could be applied to the Conservatives' term in office. It would better if they recognised that that was the case, as our memory is not as short as they would like it to be. We remember that farm incomes were in steep decline before 1997. We remember who presided over BSE and its aftermath and who created a completely artificial beef war that poisoned our relations with the rest of Europe. We also remember who failed to start effective CAP reform, did not utilise agrimonetary compensation and produced a rebate formula at Fontainebleau that hobbled our negotiations year after year. Incidentally, we also remember which party introduced legislation to prevent local authorities from buying British when buying British was best.

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

Are the Liberal Democrats against the Fontainebleau agreement and the rebate that was gained for this country? The Prime Minister applauded that rebate only yesterday and claimed its maintenance as one of his achievements.

Photo of David Heath David Heath Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

The hon. Gentleman comes late to the debate; I have made the point many times. The Fontainebleau rebate is a poor mechanism because of the problems it has created for our farmers and other primary producers. We should have had proper equivalence in the European Union between the amount that Britain spent and the amount that we received. We need an alternative mechanism, which is better designed than the Fontainebleau agreement and achieves the same objectives without crippling our farmers. We should be negotiating for that in Europe.

We have considered the motion and the Government's amendment, and we believe that successive Governments have failed farming and the rural areas in this country. Farmers and those who live in the country deserve better.

Photo of Mr Huw Edwards Mr Huw Edwards Labour, Monmouth 6:16, 1 February 2001

It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath), who speaks with great authority, which I remember from his service on the Committee that considered the Countryside and Rights of Way Bill. He presented a powerful reminder of the previous Government's legacy: BSE, long-term decline in incomes and Conservative Members' general anti-European instincts, which are relevant to a debate about farming.

There is no doubt that farm income has declined at least in the past five years. The weakness of the euro partly reflects the strength of the economy and the Government's good management of it. When the economy does well, agriculture tends to do badly. The reverse is also true: when agriculture does better, the economy tends to be weaker. I wish that the two cycles could coincide.

There has been a decline in the consumption of meat, and in world commodity prices, which seem to be improving now. The difficulties in Russia and Asia have also had an impact on the world economy. The Russian market is especially important for British farming. The effects of BSE and the loss of the export market have taken their toll. The Government regained the export market and removed the ban that was imposed by the European Union and other countries.

The Government have introduced regulations to improve consumer confidence. My hon. Friend the Member for Stroud ( Mr. Drew) made some powerful points about the need not to overstate the significance of red tape. Many of the regulations have been introduced to ensure consumer safety.

The Government have increased the regulatory framework for labelling. A farmer that I met recently drew my attention to the fact that when he went to his local supermarket, the new labelling rules had not been followed. I hope that the Government and the Food Standards Agency can consider that.

The Government's review of meat hygiene charges will be welcomed in the small abattoir in Raglan in the middle of my constituency. There is anxiety in my constituency about the delay in the payment of subsidies such as the suckler cow premium and the beef annual premium. The hon. Member for Somerton and Frome made the valid point that many farmers are penalised when they do not submit their applications in time, but that they suffer greatly from delays in their payments. There should be an appeals system. I know one farmer who lost £6,000 through making an inadvertent mistake. The Inland Revenue does not treat people like that, and neither should MAFF and the Rural Affairs Department of the Welsh Assembly.

Britain has higher welfare standards than other European countries and countries outside Europe. There is a thriving poultry industry in my constituency and it has suffered from the import of poultry that are fed on inferior foodstuffs, which would not be allowed in this country.

The farming community has also felt the effect of additional costs. I have sympathy for the farmers in my constituency who have been affected by rising fuel costs. Many small farmers are also small hauliers, and at a time of falling incomes, rising fuel costs were hitting them hard, especially the cost of red diesel. It is encouraging that the world oil price has gone down, and that has now reduced the cost of red diesel. The Government have also frozen fuel duties.

I am surprised by the Conservatives' motion. They have committed themselves to a saving in expenditure of at least £8 billion. They have said that they would protect the Government's commitments on education, the national health service and, apparently, policing. I wonder whether we have heard a genuine announcement tonight that they would protect the Government's future expenditure plans on agriculture. They have given no commitment that they would protect the industry budget. The biggest contribution that the Government give to industry is in agriculture, and it would be significant if the Conservatives would make a commitment on that. I suspect that they will not.

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

If I did not make it clear before, when I intervened on the Minister, let me make it clear again that the Conservative party will honour the MAFF budget, as it has been set out, in full. The question that I asked earlier was whether the Labour Government would honour their own MAFF budget.

Photo of Mr Huw Edwards Mr Huw Edwards Labour, Monmouth

I have every confidence that my right hon. Friend will honour the budget that the Government have planned for the next few years. However, I have doubts as to whether a Conservative Government would do so, especially when we consider that, under the previous Conservative Government, not one penny piece of agrimonetary compensation was paid. The present Government have paid over £500,000. Surely the Conservatives would want to save in an area on which they never spent a penny when they were in government.

Under the Conservatives' proposals, what would go? What would be cut? Would it be support for sheep farmers, or the sheep annual premium? Would it be support for beef farmers, or the beef annual premium? Would it be the suckler cow premium, or agrimonetary compensation, as I have suggested?

Would agri-environmental schemes be cut under the Conservatives' proposals? To their credit, the Government have invested a considerable amount of extra money in such schemes. In Wales, we have the tir gofal scheme in the lowlands, and hill farmers have access to tir mynydd. Those are important contributions to farm income that would be under threat unless the commitments that we have, supposedly, heard tonight were fulfilled and confirmed by the shadow Chancellor and the Leader of the Opposition. Would organic conversion support be maintained under the Conservatives? It has been substantially increased by the present Government.

A week ago, I attended the annual general meeting of the Monmouthshire National Farmers Union. I was pleased that the Deputy First Minister of the Welsh Assembly, Mr. Mike German, was there. The meeting was addressed by Ben Gill, the president of the NFU, and by Anthony Price, the union's chairman, who is retiring. I pay tribute to the work that Mr. Price has done, and wish every success to Glyn Williams, the new chairman.

Ben Gill had a powerful message about the difficulties facing the industry. There was no doubt about those difficulties, and I am sure that my right hon. Friend has heard such messages a number of times. Mr. Gill also said that farmers need to fight back, and to work together. To their credit, Monmouthshire farmers have been working in co-operation. They were influential in establishing the farmers ferry and farmers fresh schemes. I have also visited the abattoir in Kenilworth, where a thriving meat export market is being developed because of the co-operative initiatives achieved by the farmers of Monmouthshire and elsewhere.

In Monmouthshire, the farmers make an enormous contribution to the environment and to producing safe food. We have had some good news stories there. Two days ago, I attended the launch of CCET, the new rural training initiative. One of the key bodies involved with the scheme will be Coleg Gwent. At the heart of Coleg Gwent, which is in my constituency, is the former Usk agricultural college. I would be the first to admit that the further education sector has been very slow to respond to the educational and training needs of the established farming community. It used to train young people coming into farming, but their numbers have declined in recent years. In the past six months, an important new initiative has been produced to support those farmers who are established in the business, those who want to retrain to develop IT skills, and farmers' wives who want to retrain. The college makes an important contribution.

The farming community also makes a valuable contribution—to maintaining the beautiful countryside of Monmouthshire and to providing high quality food. I appreciate the difficulties that it faces and I want to work with farmers to ensure a more secure future for farming in Monmouthshire and the rest of Wales.

Photo of Mr David Prior Mr David Prior Chief Executive & Deputy Chair, Conservative Party 6:25, 1 February 2001

I must declare an interest. I was born and brought up on a farm and my family is still directly involved with farming.

Although the current recession is a disaster for British farmers and a particular disaster for small and medium-sized family farms and livestock farmers, it affects all farms, whatever their cropping or activity and whatever their size. Farm incomes have fallen by 90 per cent. in the past two years. As my right hon. Friend the Member for South-West Norfolk (Mrs. Shephard) pointed out, bank borrowings have risen to more than £10 billion and 47,500 farmers and farm workers have left the industry over the past two years.

Those figures mask the suffering of thousands of farmers who have seen generations of effort, hard work and dedication turn to ashes. The National Farmers Union estimates that up to 40 per cent. of farmers receive or are entitled to the working families tax credit, so let us be in no doubt about the extent of the crisis. Many people—some on the Government Benches and some elsewhere—shrug their shoulders at that. They argue, "Why does it matter? What is so special about agriculture? Why cannot it go the same way as the textile industry or other commodity-based manufacturing industries that have had to close capacity and cut back?" Those are serious and important questions. They need an answer, which I shall attempt to give.

Most obviously, we need to feed ourselves—if not completely, then at least substantially. There might be a short-term glut of food and short-term price collapses, but who can say that that will always be the case? Natural disasters might cause massive crop failures. Who can predict with certainty the impact of climate change on the world's ability to feed itself? What are the chances of a man-made disaster? Who knows the full consequences, good or bad, of genetic modification? Will the third world, as it becomes richer, demand more food than the world can produce? There might be trade wars or more conventional war. Who knows? Surely there is still a strong argument—which, after all, has been accepted since the second world war—that we should produce a significant proportion of our own food. It would be foolhardy to do otherwise.

The argument does not stop there. The British countryside—or at least more than 75 per cent. of it—has been shaped over hundreds of years by the British farmer. Our birds, insects, trees, flowers, hedges and animals are here because of British farming, not in spite of it. A crisis for farming is a crisis for our wildlife and our unique countryside. The two are inseparable.

A third aspect is alluded to in the rural White Paper, which says: Farming communities have created the fabric of our rural life over centuries — Rural life and the rural environment as we know it would not exist without farming". Although farms no longer employ as many people as they used to, they still directly employ 600,000 people full-time and part-time. That is a great deal more than the steel or car industries. Farming also touches the lives of a great many more. That connection is partly material, because the livelihoods of many depend on our farms, and partly cultural. If we lose our farming roots, future generations will cease to understand what the countryside is all about. It is a place of work as well as a place to enjoy. The latter cannot exist without the former.

The countryside march on 18 March will, I hope, show how important the countryside still is in the hearts of those of us who still live there. Its cry, "Liberty and livelihood", touches a deep chord within us.

Photo of Mr Huw Edwards Mr Huw Edwards Labour, Monmouth

It is a hunters' march.

Photo of Mr David Prior Mr David Prior Chief Executive & Deputy Chair, Conservative Party

Some Labour Members are not touched by that cry.

I believe that agriculture is special and different from other industries and that Governments have a vital role to play to ensure its future.

It is time—it is past the time—for agriculture to be returned from Europe to our national Governments. The failure of the Government to reform the CAP or to take more control over it is a failure of resolve and vision—and a failure that threatens the enlargement of the European Union to include the countries of eastern Europe.

I unashamedly advocate an interventionist role for Government. Farming is not an industry that can be tossed on to the waters of global free trade. The Opposition have other objectives: we want family farms to survive, we want to encourage mixed farming, we want to encourage less intensive methods of farming, such as LEAF—linking environment and farming—and organic farming, and we want to make our own rules on set-aside.

There will never be free and fair world trade in farm products. Animal welfare standards will vary, some countries will have different environmental priorities, land prices will vary hugely and food hygiene rules will differ. We can talk about a level playing field until the cows come home, but if we are honest with ourselves, we all know that it will never happen.

We can improve matters, of course, with honest labelling and the like, but different countries will have different priorities, and rightly so, because farming, as I have argued, is about more than trade alone. A country the size of the UK will always have a different approach to farming from that of a country the size of the USA, Brazil, Australia or even France.

Until the Government accept that farming is different, that it is special and that it involves far more than the price of a commodity, they will never have the vision or commitment to provide a future for the countryside.

Photo of Ms Helen Clark Ms Helen Clark Labour, Peterborough 6:31, 1 February 2001

No hon. Member would deny that the situation facing our farmers and the entire rural economy is extremely serious. We recognise that a number of fundamental issues have contributed to that situation, as we heard in earlier contributions—the strength of the pound, food scares and the renegotiation of the complex and troublesome CAP.

Over the past four years, the Labour Government have shown a firm commitment to agriculture and to ensuring that our food is safe. The development of our Food Standards Agency is a leading example in Europe, in which we should all take pride. On many different fronts, the Government continue to tackle the underlying problems that affect British agriculture.

Over the longer term, that will help the industry to develop in a sustainable way—"sustainable" is the key word—in a regenerated, enlivened rural economy. It is essential that we do not rush towards the quick fix or the short-term solution that does not address the issues over the long term.

The rural White Paper was an example of joined-up government. It outlined a radical package of measures to tackle the issues that matter to people who live in the countryside, such as jobs, hospitals, schools, post offices and transport. Those measures will ensure that quality public services and a stable thriving economy are brought to everyone in rural areas, including people engaged in agriculture.

As my right hon. Friend the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food said, the White Paper makes it clear that farming remains central to the vitality of rural areas". He went on to say that since 1997 Labour has provided an extra £1 billion to help the farming industry, and that £1.6 billion will back up the comprehensive measures to be taken under the English rural development programme.

I welcome the modulation of the CAP, with the resulting increased funding for the development of agri-environmental schemes. I hope that we will hear more about those later. They will ease the way for many farmers to develop their business through the adoption of stewardship or organic farming, which is moving towards the top of the political agenda.

Under the Conservative Government, research and development funding for organic farming was just over £1 million a year. The Labour Government have increased that to more than £2 million, which means that we are second only to Denmark among EU countries.

In 1997–98, expenditure on countryside stewardship was £19 million a year. Labour has already increased that to £35 million. Under the rural development programme, expenditure will rise each year, reaching £126 million by 2006–07.

The Government have supported the adoption of integrated farm management. I was glad to hear comments on that from Members on both sides of the House. IFM integrates care for the environment with the production of safe, wholesome food at affordable prices. It is an approach to farming that will combine beneficial natural processes and traditional practices such as crop rotation with modern technology and selective targeted use of agrochemicals. The result is the ability to minimise pollution and avoid unnecessary use of chemicals and energy, while maintaining our profit margins.

IFM is supported partly through the DETR-funded scheme linking the environment and farming—appropriately known as LEAF. I visited a LEAF farm near my Peterborough constituency only last autumn, and was extremely impressed both by the personal commitment of the farmer concerned, David Felce, and by the potential of IFM to support a sustainable agriculture in the current economic conditions. In fact, I shall host an event here in March to help to increase awareness.

I know that my right hon. Friend the Minister has also visited a LEAF farm, and that there is a strong possibility that MAFF will give LEAF additional support. LEAF has contributed to the production of sustainable development indicators at farm level, and I am glad to say that that too has been favourably received by MAFF. I understand that LEAF' s contribution has also been recognised by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister.

This Government recognise that agricultural problems cannot and should not be solved by a quick fix. It is a question of assessing the options that are workable for and available to farmers. There are taskforces whose purpose is to simplify the burden of law, without simply carrying out a "slash red tape" exercise—we have heard about that today as well—that might have undesirable knock-on effects, including endangering public safety.

Work is in progress to develop farm assurance schemes, and to help farmers to get nearer the marketplace. I understand that that includes diversification and the establishment of farmers markets and co-operatives. There is an assessment of the advisory services offered to farmers with the aim of reducing the industry's costs, and ensuring collaboration and better feed-through of information throughout. There are training schemes, free business advice, benchmarking and online information. Farm buildings now house computers as well as more traditional supplies and implements, as I have seen for myself.

In short, this Labour Government are developing a range of solutions for the agriculture industry, as well as tackling the social and economic problems of the rural economy, which will obviously benefit farmers too. Only by adopting a long-term comprehensive strategy will we ensure the sustainable development of a thriving, lively agriculture sector, which is what I believe we all want.

Photo of James Paice James Paice Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) 6:38, 1 February 2001

I begin by reminding the House of the interest that I have declared in the Register of Members' Interests.

Our short debate has covered a lot of ground. No doubt the Minister of State will shortly rise with a pained expression, and declare that she cannot answer all the points that have been raised, but—as was said by my right hon. Friend the Member for South-West Norfolk (Mrs. Shephard)—we need answers to many of the points made by Members on both sides of the House. I hope that the Minister will dispose of any pre-prepared speech and seek genuinely to deal with them.

A number of Labour Members were obviously at pains to criticise my party, but went on to recite exactly the points about problems in agriculture that we have made. We welcome what the Minister has done to alleviate at least some of the problems caused by flooding: the derogation with regard to the integrated administration and control system—or IACS—rules was very sensible, although I would not have expected the Minister to do otherwise.

As my hon. Friend the Member for South Suffolk (Mr. Yeo) said, the Minister's account of his achievements sounded remarkably self-satisfied and smug. It could lead people to believe that things were getting better when, as we know, they are not.

The Minister accused Conservative Members of being against free trade and for protectionism. As all Opposition Members know, that is absolute rot. Conservative Members believe in free trade and the market because of political conviction—not because of political convenience, which is what attracts Labour Members to such opinions. Nevertheless, we have to accept that totally unfettered free trade would cause standards to fall to the lowest common denominator. No hon. Member wants that in food standards, in welfare standards or in anything else. There must be a standards threshold to ensure that there is fair trade.

The Minister said a little about BSE and tried yet again to lay it at our door, and I know that BSE will be the subject of another debate. I noticed, however, that he failed to mention that today, Commissioner Byrne said that the rest of Europe should follow Britain's example of how to control a disease. Those controls were put in place by the previous, Conservative Government.

My hon. Friend the Member for North Norfolk (Mr. Prior) made a very thoughtful speech in which he emphasised the importance of agriculture and explained why, for all types of reasons, it is different from other industries. He could also have mentioned the fact that 500,000 jobs in food processing would go abroad if the raw materials were sourced abroad.

Various hon. Members have spoken about agrimoney and compensation. It is essential that the Minister claim the available £202 million or thereabouts not only for its own sake, but because if he does not, we would be denied the opportunity in subsequent phases to claim another £170 million. However, as the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) said, the Minister gave us no indication of what will follow the current agrimonetary scheme, which expires on 1 January 2002. I think that the Opposition are justified in asking the Government to tell us their plans to negotiate a replacement—or does the Minister believe that Britain will have joined the euro by the end of this year?

My right hon. Friend the Member for South-West Norfolk mentioned the sugar industry. Two major threats hang over that industry, but in both cases, the Minister has gone against the interests of British industry. Although he seemed to try a different line today, I remind him of an answer that he gave only a little while ago in reply to a question from my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Worcestershire (Mr. Luff). He said: The hon. Gentleman overstates the danger … The quantities involved are relatively small and there are safeguards in the proposal."—[Official Report, 21 December 2000; Vol. 360, c. 550.]

The Commission, however, has published its own impact assessment showing that, if the everything but arms proposals had proceeded as originally planned, they would have cost the common agricultural policy 1 billion euros and reduced the sugar quota within the European Union by 1 million tonnes, which is about the same as the United Kingdom's entire production. Anyone who thinks that that is overstatement is deluding himself.

Now, as we have heard, the Commission has shelved the proposals, including those on sugar, for the next six years. It is doing that because once the French Government lost the presidency, they started to stand up for their own sugar industry. I wonder whether the Minister feels good that the British industry has been saved not by him but by the French Government.

The Minister espouses reform of the regime, but he wants even bigger cuts than those demanded by the Commission. Indeed, he has previously quoted some of my right hon. Friends in support of his claim. However, when those calls for reductions were made, all arable crops were making reasonable, and in some cases substantial, margins. Now, no other mainstream arable crop is making a margin at all.

By how much would the Minister expect the price of a packet of biscuits or a soft drink to fall if the sugar price were cut by 20 or 30 per cent? Can he tell us? The answer is almost certainly that the price would not be reduced by a penny. Neither has he commented on whether he believes in area-based compensation for sugar price reductions, as has been provided for other arable crops.

The Minister also referred to the TB crisis in our cattle industry, which is serious and getting worse. The Krebs inquiry said that trials should be running in three months, but three years down the line, not all the trials are up and running.

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

The Minister says that they are. They are not: proactive culling has not taken place at three of the 10 sites. If the Minister does not know what is going on in a programme for which he is responsible, he should be ashamed of himself. The husbandry panel published proposals last May, but the Minister did not respond until two weeks ago. Even then, he failed to act on some of the recommendations. Farmers know the truth—that none of these Ministers wants to make the tough decisions that may flow from the completed trials. The Minister has also failed to address the issue of cattle movement out of the hot spots and into clean areas.

We have also heard about the sum of £26 million for the pig industry restructuring scheme. The Minister said that he was trying to ensure that the amount was rolled over, and he has our support in that.

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

The Minister says that that will not help, but he forgets that he has only two or three months to secure the rollover. However, if he fails to convince the Chancellor to roll over that money, will he assure the House that he will use it to help the pig industry by advancing the amount that will be raised from the levy for the pig welfare scheme? The industry has asked him to do that, but so far he has rejected the request. If there is no rollover, that money would be available to the Minister, and it is reasonable to expect him to use it for that purpose.

Finally, what has the Minister done about the cause of the outbreak of swine fever? His own officials attribute it to illegally imported pigmeat. What has he done to control any further such imports?

Much of the debate has been about regulation and the opportunities for diversification. Of course agriculture must change, but change should not mean extinction—yet that is what faces thousands of farmers today.

We have set out on many occasions our principles for reform of the common agricultural policy. It ill behoves the Minister to accuse the Opposition of not having ideas, given that the Prime Minister went to Berlin when the Agenda 2000 proposals were being agreed, and managed to make the resolution even worse for Britain than the settlement that the Minister had achieved.

For farming to survive tomorrow, we do not need to concentrate on preaching about new directions. Farming is being priced and regulated out of existence. My right hon. Friend the Member for South-West Norfolk gave an excellent example of that from her constituency. Lord Haskins made 21 recommendations, on top of the 98 that the Minister had already accepted. What was the Minister's reaction to Lord Haskins? He created three more taskforces.

Never has long grass been so abused as by this Minister. Since he has been in office, 20 separate working groups, taskforces and reviews have been set up. Lord Haskins' report was published on 16 November. Why did the Minister not tell his civil servants the day after to get on and fulfil its recommendations at once? In the time between publication of the report and the announcement of the taskforces, another 4,000 people lost their jobs in the farming industry.

The action plan was an example of cynical manipulation of the facts. The Minister produced one budget for the Chief Secretary to the Treasury that contained swingeing cuts, and then reinstated that money in the expectation that he would be acclaimed as a hero—and he did not do that with the hill livestock allowance alone. For example, in the action plan, the Minister sought to abolish the 30-month wait limit, but who introduced the limit in the first place? Labour. He sought to hold the increase in meat hygiene charges to the level of inflation, but who wanted to raise them by more than inflation? Labour. He sought to defer the annual charge for sheep dip disposal. Who set the charge? Labour. He deferred the introduction of integrated pollution prevention and control for pig farmers. Who introduced it? Labour.

The harsh fact is that, by his actions, the Minister has betrayed consumers and conned farmers. He came into office with his bonhomie and apparent concern, yet has presided over a worsening crisis, to which his main response has been to set up working groups, taskforces and reviews. While he has dithered and delayed, farmers and farm workers have been losing their jobs and their businesses faster than ever before, at a rate of 60 a week—week in, week out—for the past two years. During his speech, at least two more jobs were lost. The sooner it is his job that is lost, the better.

Photo of Ms Joyce Quin Ms Joyce Quin Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food 6:50, 1 February 2001

This debate has been characterised by a number of thoughtful contributions, focusing on the present difficulties in agriculture and on ideas for securing the future of the industry. I welcome much of what has been said, although once again, the speeches of Opposition Front-Bench Members have proved the exception in what has overall been a worthwhile debate.

At least the hon. Member for South Suffolk (Mr. Yeo) began his speech by recognising the way in which my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food had listened to the concerns of farmers around the country. However, the hon. Gentleman failed to acknowledge that my right hon. Friend has not stopped at simply listening to farmers' concerns but has taken an enormous number of measures and a great deal of action. Fortunately, that fact emerged from other contributions, including that of my right hon. Friend, during the debate.

My right hon. Friend began his speech by pointing out the inaccuracies in the Opposition's motion. He dealt effectively with the charges of failure to act and detailed the action that we had taken in the light of the measures that are necessary in the short term, as well as the medium and longer term. He spoke of the measures that had been taken domestically, within the United Kingdom, and of the work that we have put into building up alliances for common agricultural policy reform. The hon. Member for North Norfolk (Mr. Prior) said that he would insist on CAP reform. It is a question not simply of standing up at European meetings and insisting, but of building up alliances so that concrete changes in agricultural reform are secured. That is what the Government, through their much more constructive European engagement, have done.

Many right hon. and hon. Members referred to the action plan for farming. Excellent progress is being made in the delivery of that plan. Of the 63 measures in the plan, 49 have been implemented. Recent examples, which have been referred to by some Opposition Members as well as some of my right hon. and hon. Friends, have been the ongoers and outgoers elements of the pig industry restructuring scheme and the recent announcement of aid to help to secure the future of small and medium-sized abattoirs. I commend the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Monmouth (Mr. Edwards) about the situation in that sector in his constituency.

My right hon. Friend also referred to the introduction of the farm business advisory service. We are very keen that there should be a good take-up of the scheme. Indeed, I was in the south-west only yesterday, encouraging farmers in that area, particularly hill farmers, to take advantage of that service. We sent details of the scheme to all farmers in the United Kingdom to encourage those in isolated and remote areas and those who were worried about the future to access and take advantage of it. We feel strongly about that.

My right hon. Friend and others also referred to the rural development programme and the welcome flexibility that it offers all sectors in agriculture, including, for example, horticulture, which does not get mainstream support from the common agricultural policy. Indeed, the rural development programme is a forward-looking measure, which recognises the differing roles that farmers fulfil—the important roles of food production and of countryside stewardship.

We have achieved a lot in CAP reform, especially through the establishment of the second rural development pillar. I believe, too, that we have made real progress in securing improvements in animal welfare. We achieved a change in the treaty to ensure that animals were recognised as sentient beings, and we are moving towards a more level playing field for directives on the welfare of laying hens and, recently, on pig welfare, about which many hon. Members are deeply concerned. Indeed, our successes in the EU have been shown by small but important measures, such as those safeguarding traditional hedgerow practices, about which hon. Members have expressed much concern in previous agriculture debates.

I should like to turn to some of the specific questions on sugar. The right hon. Member for South-West Norfolk (Mrs. Shephard) asked about recent changes proposed by the Commission. It is true that the Commission is reconsidering aspects of the everything but arms proposal, but it is also true that no formal proposal for change has yet come forward. She referred to speculation in the farming press, but until the whole college of Commissioners considers the issues, we can neither react to them, nor make a public pronouncement on them. However, my right hon. Friend the Minister will meet Commissioner Lamy to find out about his current proposals, and we shall continue to strive to ensure a balance.

The right hon. Lady said that when Conservative Ministers called for dramatic reforms in the EU sugar regime in the past, farmers were in a different financial position. Indeed, that suggestion was repeated by the hon. Member for South-East Cambridgeshire (Mr. Paice). I accept that farmers were in a different financial position, but several Conservative Members, including some who sit on the Front Bench, have written to me putting an argument entirely different from the one that she and the hon. Member for South-East Cambridgeshire have espoused. Several Conservative Members have told us that they want the sugar regime to be dramatically changed along the lines that she previously proposed.

Photo of Mrs Gillian Shephard Mrs Gillian Shephard Conservative, South West Norfolk

The Official Report will reveal that the Minister of State has attributed remarks to me that I did not make. My point is simply that the current proposals are incompatible, and I merely sought to find out whether Agriculture Ministers in this Labour Government support the British industry—but no answer has there come today.

Photo of Ms Joyce Quin Ms Joyce Quin Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food

When the right hon. Lady was a Minister, she argued strongly for price cuts that she does not support now—[Interruption.] She says that I attributed to her remarks that she did not make. If she had listened carefully, she would have heard that I also referred to the remarks —

Question, That the Question be now put, put and agreed to.

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

The House divided:Ayes 145, Noes 267.

Division No. 99][6.59 pm
AYES
Ainsworth, Peter (E Surrey)Baker, Norman
Allan, RichardBaldry, Tony
Amess, DavidBeggs, Roy
Arbuthnot, Rt Hon JamesBeith, Rt Hon A J
Atkinson, David (Bour'mth E)Bercow, John
Beresford, Sir PaulLilley, Rt Hon Peter
Blunt, CrispinLivsey, Richard
Body, Sir RichardLlwyd, Elfyn
Boswell, TimLoughton, Tim
Bottomley, Rt Hon Mrs VirginiaLuff, Peter
Brady, GrahamLyell, Rt Hon Sir Nicholas
Brand, Dr PeterMacGregor, Rt Hon John
Brazier, JulianMcIntosh, Miss Anne
Brooke, Rt Hon PeterMacKay, Rt Hon Andrew
Browning, Mrs AngelaMaclean, Rt Hon David
Bruce, Ian (S Dorset)Maclennan, Rt Hon Robert
Bums, SimonMalins, Humfrey
Burstow, PaulMaples, John
Chapman, Sir Sydney (Chipping Barnet)Maude, Rt Hon Francis
Mawhinney, Rt Hon Sir Brian
Chope, ChristopherMoss, Malcolm
Clappison, JamesNicholls, Patrick
Collins, TimNorman, Archie
Cormack, Sir PatrickO'Brien, Stephen (Eddisbury)
Cotter, BrianOttaway, Richard
Cran, JamesPage, Richard
Curry, Rt Hon DavidPaice, James
Davies, Quentin (Grantham)Pickles, Eric
Davis, Rt Hon David (Haltemprice)Portillo, Rt Hon Michael
Day, StephenPrior, David
Dorrell, Rt Hon StephenRedwood, Rt Hon John
Duncan, AlanRendel, David
Duncan Smith, IainRobathan, Andrew
Emery, Rt Hon Sir PeterRobertson, Laurence (Tewk'b'ry)
Evans, NigelRoe, Mrs Marion (Broxbourne)
Fabricant, MichaelRowe, Andrew (Faversham)
Fallon, MichaelRuffley, David
Flight, HowardRussell, Bob (Colchester)
Forth, Rt Hon EricSt Aubyn, Nick
Foster, Don (Bath)Shephard, Rt Hon Mrs Gillian
Fowler, Rt Hon Sir NormanShepherd, Richard
Fox, Dr LiamSimpson, Keith (Mid-Norfolk)
Gale, RogerSoames, Nicholas
Garnier, EdwardSpelman, Mrs Caroline
Gibb, NickSpicer, Sir Michael
Gidley, SandraSpring, Richard
Gill, ChristopherStanley, Rt Hon Sir John
Gillan, Mrs CherylSteen, Anthony
Gorman, Mrs TeresaStunell, Andrew
Gray, JamesSwayne, Desmond
Green, DamianSyms, Robert
Grieve, DominicTapsell, Sir Peter
Gummer, Rt Hon JohnTaylor, Ian (Esher & Walton)
Hamilton, Rt Hon Sir ArchieTaylor, John M (Solihull)
Hammond, PhilipTaylor, Sir Teddy
Harvey, NickThomas, Simon (Ceredigion)
Hawkins, NickTownend, John
Hayes, JohnTredinnick, David
Heald, OliverTrend, Michael
Heath, David (Somerton & Frome)Tyler, Paul
Horam, JohnTyrie, Andrew
Howard, Rt Hon MichaelViggers, Peter
Howarth, Gerald (Aldershot)Walter, Robert
Hunter, AndrewWardle, Charles
Jack, Rt Hon MichaelWaterson, Nigel
Jenkin, BernardWebb, Steve
Keetch, PaulWhittingdale, John
Key, RobertWiddecombe, Rt Hon Miss Ann
King, Rt Hon Tom (Bridgwater)Wilkinson, John
Kirkbride, Miss JulieYeo, Tim
Lait, Mrs JacquiYoung, Rt Hon Sir George
Lansley, Andrew
Leigh, EdwardTellers for the Ayes:
Letwin, OliverMr. John Randall and
Lidington, DavidMr. Peter Atkinson.
NOES
Adams, Mrs Irene (Paisley N)Armstrong, Rt Hon Ms Hilary
Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE)Ashton, Joe
Alexander, DouglasAtkins, Charlotte
Allen, GrahamAustin, John
Bailey, AdrianFitzpatrick, Jim
Banks, TonyFitzsimons, Mrs Lorna
Barnes, HarryFlint, Caroline
Barron, KevinFlynn, Paul
Bayley, HughFoster, Rt Hon Derek
Beckett, Rt Hon Mrs MargaretFoster, Michael Jabez (Hastings)
Bell, Stuart (Middlesbrough)Foster, Michael J (Worcester)
Benn, Hilary (Leeds C)Fyfe, Maria
Bennett, Andrew FGalloway, George
Benton, JoeGardiner, Barry
Bermingham, GeraldGeorge, Rt Hon Bruce (Walsall S)
Best, HaroldGerrard, Neil
Betts, CliveGibson, Dr Ian
Blears, Ms HazelGilroy, Mrs Linda
Blizzard, BobGodsiff, Roger
Boateng, Rt Hon PaulGordon, Mrs Eileen
Borrow, DavidGriffiths, Jane (Reading E)
Bradley, Keith (Withington)Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)
Bradshaw, BenGrocott, Bruce
Brinton, Mrs HelenGrogan, John
Brown, Rt Hon Nick (Newcastle E)Hall, Mike (Weaver Vale)
Browne, DesmondHall, Patrick (Bedford)
Buck, Ms KarenHanson, David
Burden, RichardHarman, Rt Hon Ms Harriet
Burgon, ColinHealey, John
Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge)Henderson, Doug (Newcastle N)
Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V)Henderson, Ivan (Harwich)
Caplin, IvorHendrick, Mark
Casale, RogerHepburn, Stephen
Caton, MartinHeppell, John
Cawsey, IanHewitt, Ms Patricia
Chapman, Ben (Wirral S)Hill, Keith
Clapham, MichaelHinchliffe, David
Clark, Dr Lynda (Edinburgh Pentlands)Hodge, Ms Margaret
Hoey, Kate
Clark, Paul (Gillingham)Hood, Jimmy
Clarke, Eric (Midlothian)Howells, Dr Kim
Clarke, Rt Hon Tom (Coatbridge)Hughes, Ms Beverley (Stretford)
Clelland, DavidHughes, Kevin (Doncaster N)
Clwyd, AnnHutton, John
Coffey, Ms AnnIddon, Dr Brian
Cohen, HarryJackson, Ms Glenda (Hampstead)
Coleman, IainJackson, Helen (Hillsborough)
Colman, TonyJamieson, David
Connarty, MichaelJenkins, Brian
Cook, Rt Hon Robin (Livingston)Johnson, Miss Melanie (Welwyn Hatfield)
Cooper, Yvette
Corbett, RobinJones, Mrs Fiona (Newark)
Corbyn, JeremyJones, Helen (Warrington N)
Corston, JeanJones, Dr Lynne (Selly Oak)
Cousins, JimJones, Martyn (Clwyd S)
Cox, TomJowell, Rt Hon Ms Tessa
Cranston, RossJoyce, Eric
Crausby, DavidKeeble, Ms Sally
Cryer, John (Hornchurch)Keen, Alan (Feltham & Heston)
Cummings, JohnKeen, Ann (Brentford & Isleworth)
Cunningham, Rt Hon Dr Jack (Copeland)Kennedy, Jane (Wavertree)
Khabra, Piara S
Cunningham, Jim (Cov'try S)Kidney, David
Darling, Rt Hon AlistairKilfoyle, Peter
Darvill, KeithLammy, David
Davidson, IanLawrence, Mrs Jackie
Davies, Geraint (Croydon C)Laxton, Bob
Davis, Rt Hon Terry (B'ham Hodge H)Lepper, David
Lewis, Ivan (Bury S)
Denham, JohnLiddell, Rt Hon Mrs Helen
Dobbin, JimLloyd, Tony (Manchester C)
Dobson, Rt Hon FrankLove, Andrew
Drew, DavidMcAvoy, Thomas
Drown, Ms JuliaMcCabe, Steve
Dunwoody, Mrs GwynethMcCafferty, Ms Chris
Eagle, Angela (Wallasey)McCartney, Rt Hon Ian (Makerfield)
Edwards, Huw
Ellman, Mrs LouiseMcDonagh, Siobhain
Field, Rt Hon FrankMcDonnell, John
Fisher, MarkMcFall, John
McGuire, Mrs AnneRooker, Rt Hon Jeff
McIsaac, ShonaRooney, Terry
McKenna, Mrs RosemaryRowlands, Ted
Mackinlay, AndrewRoy, Frank
McNamara, KevinRuddock, Joan
MacShane, DenisRyan, Ms Joan
McWalter, TonySalter, Martin
Mallaber, JudySarwar, Mohammad
Marsden, Gordon (Blackpool S)Sedgemore, Brian
Marshall, David (Shettleston)Sheerman, Barry
Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert
Marshall-Andrews, RobertShipley, Ms Debra
Martlew, EricSingh, Marsha
Meacher, Rt Hon MichaelSkinner, Dennis
Meale, AlanSmith, Angela (Basildon)
Merron, GillianSmith, Rt Hon Chris (Islington S)
Michael, Rt Hon AlunSoley, Clive
Michie, Bill (Shefld Heeley)Spellar, John
Miller, AndrewSquire, Ms Rachel
Mitchell, AustinSteinberg, Gerry
Moffatt, LauraStevenson, George
Moonie, Dr LewisStewart, Ian (Ecdes)
Morgan, Ms Julie (Cardiff N)Stinchcombe, Paul
Morley, ElliotStrang, Rt Hon Dr Gavin
Morris, Rt Hon Ms Estelle(B'ham Yardley)Straw, Rt Hon Jack
Stringer, Graham
Mountford, KaliStuart Ms Gisela
Mowlam, Rt Hon MarjorieSutcliffe, Gerry
Mudie, GeorgeTaylor, Rt Hon Mrs Ann(Dewsbury)
Mullin, Chris
Murphy, Denis (Wansbeck)Taylor, Ms Dari (Stockton S)
Murphy, Jim (Eastwood)Taylor, David (NWLeics)
Murphy, Rt Hon Paul (Torfaen)Timms, Stephen
Naysmith, Dr DougTodd, Mark
O'Brien, Bill (Normanton)Touhig, Don
O'Brien, Mike (N Warks)Truswell, Paul
O'Hara, EddieTurner, Dennis (Wotverh'ton SE)
Olner, BillTurner, Dr Desmond (Kemptown)
O'Neill, MartinTwigg, Derek (Halton)
Palmer, Dr NickTynan, Bill
Perham, Ms LindaWalley, Ms Joan
Pickthall, ColinWard, Ms Claire
Pike, Peter LWareing, Robert N
Plaskitt, JamesWatts, David
Pope, GregWhite, Brian
Pound, StephenWhitehead, Dr Alan
Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lewisham E)Williams, Rt Hon Alan(Swansea W)
Prentice, Gordon (Pendle)
Prescott, Rt Hon JohnWilliams, Alan W (E Carmarthen)
Prosser, GwynWinnick, David
Purchase, KenWoolas, Phil
Quin, Rt Hon Ms JoyceWorthington, Tony
Rammell, BillWray, James
Raynsford, NickWright, Anthony D (Gt Yarmouth)
Reid, Rt Hon Dr John (Hamilton N)Wright, Tony (Cannock)
Robertson, John(Glasgow Anniesland)Wyatt, Derek
Robinson, Geoffrey (Cov'try NW)Tellers for the Noes:
Roche, Mrs BarbaraMr. Tony McNulty and
Rogers, AllanMr. Jim Dowd.

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 267, Noes 114.

Division No. 100][7.13 pm
AYES
Adams, Mrs Irene (Paisley N)Armstrong, Rt Hon Ms Hilary
Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE)Atkins, Charlotte
Alexander, DouglasAustin, John
Allan, RichardBailey, Adrian
Allen. GrahamBaker, Norman
Banks, TonyFlynn, Paul
Barnes, HarryFoster, Rt Hon Derek
Barron, KevinFoster, Don (Bath)
Bayley, HughFoster, Michael Jabez (Hastings)
Beckett, Rt Hon Mrs MargaretFoster, Michael J (Worcester)
Beith, Rt Hon A JFyfe, Maria
Bell, Stuart (Middlesbrough)Galloway, George
Benn, Hilary (Leeds C)Gardiner, Barry
Bennett, Andrew FGeorge, Rt Hon Bruce (Walsall S)
Benton, JoeGerrard, Neil
Bermingham, GeraldGibson, Dr Ian
Best, HaroldGidley, Sandra
Betts, CliveGilroy, Mrs Linda
Blears, Ms HazelGodsiff, Roger
Blizzard, BobGordon, Mrs Eileen
Boateng, Rt Hon PaulGriffiths, Jane (Reading E)
Borrow, DavidGriffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)
Bradley, Keith (Withington)Grocott, Bruce
Bradshaw, BenGrogan, John
Brand, Dr PeterHall, Mike (Weaver Vale)
Brinton, Mrs HelenHall, Patrick (Bedford)
Brown, Rt Hon Nick (Newcastle E)Hanson, David
Browne, DesmondHarman, Rt Hon Ms Harriet
Buck, Ms KarenHarvey, Nick
Burden, RichardHealey, John
Burgon, ColinHeath, David (Somerton & Frome)
Burstow, PaulHenderson, Doug (Newcastle N)
Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge)Henderson, Ivan (Harwich)
Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V)Hendrick, Mark
Caplin, IvorHepburn, Stephen
Casale, RogerHeppell, John
Caton, MartinHewitt, Ms Patricia
Cawsey, IanHill, Keith
Chapman, Ben (Wirral S)Hinchliffe, David
Clapham, MichaelHodge, Ms Margaret
Clark, Paul (Gillingham)Hoey, Kate
Clarke, Rt Hon Tom (Coatbridge)Hood, Jimmy
Clwyd, AnnHowells, Dr Kim
Coffey, Ms AnnHughes, Ms Beverley (Stretford)
Cohen, HarryHughes, Kevin (Doncaster N)
Coleman, IainHutton, John
Colman, TonyIddon, Dr Brian
Connarty, MichaelJackson, Helen (Hillsborough)
Cook, Rt Hon Robin (Livingston)Jamieson, David
Cooper, YvetteJenkins, Brian
Corbett, RobinJohnson, Miss Melanie (Welwyn Hatfield)
Corbyn, Jeremy
Corston, JeanJones, Dr Lynne (Selly Oak)
Cotter, BrianJones, Martyn (Clwyd S)
Cox, TomJowell, Rt Hon Ms Tessa
Cranston, RossJoyce, Eric
Crausby, DavidKeeble, Ms Sally
Cryer, John (Hornchurch)Keen, Alan (Feltham & Heston)
Cummings, JohnKeen, Ann (Brentford & Isleworth)
Cunningham, Rt Hon Dr Jack(Copeland)Keetch, Paul
Kennedy, Jane (Wavertree)
Cunningham, Jim (Cov'try S)Khabra, Piara S
Darvill, KeithKidney, David
Davidson, IanKilfoyle, Peter
Davies, Geraint (Croydon C)Lawrence, Mrs Jackie
Davis, Rt Hon Terry(B'ham Hodge H)Laxton, Bob
Lepper, David
Denham, JohnLewis, Ivan (Bury S)
Dobbin, JimLiddell, Rt Hon Mrs Helen
Dobson, Rt Hon FrankLivsey, Richard
Drew, DavidLloyd, Tony (Manchester C)
Drown, Ms JuliaLove, Andrew
Dunwoody, Mrs GwynethMcAvoy, Thomas
Eagle, Angela (Wallasey)McCabe, Steve
Edwards, HuwMcCafferty, Ms Chris
Ellman, Mrs LouiseMcDonagh, Siobhain
Field, Rt Hon FrankMcDonnell, John
Fisher, MarkMcFall, John
Fitzpatrick, JimMcGuire, Mrs Anne
Fitzsimons, Mrs LomaMcIsaac, Shona
Flint, CarolineMcKenna, Mrs Rosemary
Mackinlay, AndrewRowlands, Ted
Maclennan, Rt Hon RobertRoy, Frank
McNamara, KevinRuddock, Joan
MacShane, DenisRussell, Bob (Colchester)
McWalter, TonyRyan, Ms Joan
Mallaber, JudySarwar, Mohammad
Marsden, Gordon (Blackpool S)Sedgemore, Brian
Marshall, David (Shettleston)Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert
Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)Shipley, Ms Debra
Marshall-Andrews, RobertSingh, Marsha
Meacher, Rt Hon MichaelSkinner, Dennis
Meale, AlanSmith, Angela (Basildon)
Merron, GillianSmith, Rt Hon Chris (Islington S)
Michael, Rt Hon AlunSoley, Clive
Michie, Bill (Shef'ld Heeley)Spellar, John
Miller, AndrewSquire, Ms Rachel
Mitchell, AustinSteinberg, Gerry
Moffatt, LauraStevenson, George
Moonie, Dr LewisStewart, Ian (Eccles)
Morgan, Ms Julie (Cardiff N)Straw, Rt Hon Jack
Morley, ElliotStringer, Graham
Morris, Rt Hon Ms Estelle(B'ham Yardley)Stuart, Ms Gisela
Stunell, Andrew
Mountford, KaliSutcliffe, Gerry
Mullin, ChrisTaylor, Rt Hon Mrs Ann(Dewsbury)
Murphy, Denis (Wansbeck)
Murphy, Jim (Eastwood)Taylor, Ms Dari (Stockton S)
Murphy, Rt Hon Paul (Torfaen)Taylor, David (NWLeics)
Naysmith, Dr DougTimms, Stephen
O'Brien, Bill (Normanton)Todd, Mark
O'Brien, Mike (N Warks)Touhig, Don
O'Hara, EddieTruswell, Paul
Olner, BillTurner, Dennis (Wolverh'lon SE)
O'Neill, MartinTurner, Dr Desmond (Kemptown)
Palmer, Dr NickTwigg, Derek (Halton)
Perham, Ms LindaTyler, Paul
Pickthall, ColinTynan, Bill
Pike, Peter LWalley, Ms Joan
Plaskitt, JamesWard, Ms Claire
Pond, ChrisWareing, Robert N
Pope, GregWatts, David
Pound, StephenWebb, Steve
Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lewisham E)White, Brian
Prentice, Gordon (Pendle)Whitehead, Dr Alan
Prescott, Rt Hon JohnWilliams, Rt Hon Alan(Swansea W)
Prosser, Gwyn
Purchase, KenWilliams, Alan W (E Carmarthen)
Quin, Rt Hon Ms JoyceWinnick, David
Rammell, BillWoolas, Phil
Raynsford, NickWorthington, Tony
Reid, Rt Hon Dr John (Hamilton N)Wray, James
Rendel, DavidWright, Anthony D (Gt Yarmouth)
Robertson, John(Glasgow Anniesland)Wright, Tony (Cannock)
Wyatt, Derek
Robinson, Geoffrey (Cov'try NW)
Rogers, AllanTellers for the Ayes:
Rooker, Rt Hon JeffMr. Tony McNulty and
Rooney, TerryMr. Jim Dowd.
NOES
Ainsworth, Peter (E Surrey)Burns, Simon
Amess, DavidChope, Christopher
Arbuthnot, Rt Hon JamesCollins, Tim
Atkinson, David (Bour'mth E)Cormack, Sir Patrick
Baldry, TonyCran, James
Beggs, RoyCurry, Rt Hon David
Bercow, JohnDavies, Quentin (Grantham)
Beresford, Sir PaulDavis, Rt Hon David (Haltemprice)
Body, Sir RichardDay, Stephen
Boswell, TimDorrell, Rt Hon Stephen
Bottomley, Rt Hon Mrs VirginiaDuncan Smith, Iain
Brady, GrahamEmery, Rt Hon Sir Peter
Brooke, Rt Hon PeterEvans, Nigel
Browning, Mrs AngelaFabricant, Michael
Bruce, Ian (S Dorset)Fallon, Michael
Flight, HowardNorman, Archie
Forth, Rt Hon EricO'Brien, Stephen (Eddisbury)
Fowler, Rt Hon Sir NormanOttaway, Richard
Fox, Dr LiamPage, Richard
Gale, RogerPaice, James
Garnier, EdwardPickles, Eric
Gibb, NickPrior, David
Gill, ChristopherRedwood, Rt Hon John
Gillan, Mrs CherylRobathan, Andrew
Gorman, Mrs TeresaRobertson, Laurence (Tewk'b'ry)
Gray, JamesRowe, Andrew (Faversham)
Green, DamianRuffley, David
Grieve, DominicSt Aubyn, Nick
Gummer, Rt Hon JohnShephard, Rt Hon Mrs Gillian
Hamilton, Rt Hon Sir ArchieShepherd, Richard
Hammond, PhilipSimpson, Keith (Mid-Norfolk)
Hawkins, NickSoames, Nicholas
Hayes, JohnSpelman, Mrs Caroline
Heald, OliverSpicer, Sir Michael
Horam, JohnSpring, Richard
Howard, Rt Hon MichaelStanley, Rt Hon Sir John
Howarth, Gerald (Aldershot)Steen, Anthony
Jack, Rt Hon MichaelSwayne, Desmond
Jenkin, BernardSyms, Robert
Key, RobertTapsell, Sir Peter
Kirkbride, Miss JulieTaylor, Ian (Esher& Walton)
Lait, Mrs JacquiTaylor, John M (Solihull)
Lansley, AndrewTaylor, Sir Teddy
Letwin, OliverThomas, Simon (Ceredigion)
Lidington, DavidTownend, John
Lilley, Rt Hon PeterTredinnick, David
Llwyd, ElfynTrend, Michael
Loughton, TimTyrie, Andrew
Luff, PeterViggers, Peter
Lyell, Rt Hon Sir NicholasWalter, Robert
McIntosh, Miss AnneWaterson, Nigel
MacKay, Rt Hon AndrewWhittingdale, John
Maclean, Rt Hon DavidWlkinson, John
Malins, HumfreyYeo, Tim
Maples, JohnYoung, Rt Hon Sir George
Maude, Rt Hon Francis
Mawhinney, Rt Hon Sir BrianTellers for the Noes:
Moss, MalcolmMr. Peter Atkinson and
Nicholls, PatrickMr. John Randall.

Question accordingly agreed to.

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

Resolved,That this House recognises the continuing difficulties faced by the agriculture sector as a result of the low level of farm incomes; endorses the Government's long term vision for agriculture as sustainable, competitive and diverse, environmentally responsible, and an integral part of vibrant rural economies; recognises the important role of the new Rural Development Programmes in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland in delivering this vision; welcomes the measures in the Action Plan for Farming and the Rural White Paper to give immediate financial relief to the hardest-hit sectors and to reduce the burden of regulation on farming; supports the Government's constructive engagement in Europe to reform further the Common Agricultural Policy; notes that the Conservative party's policies of banning foreign imports and taking unilateral action in areas of European Union competence are illegal and would lead to heavy penalties being levied on UK taxpayers as well as retaliatory action against UK exporters; notes that the Conservative Party have not indicated how much of the £16 billion they propose in public expenditure cuts would fall on British farmers; and calls on the Conservative Party instead to come forward with practical and constructive policies to help farmers through very difficult times.