Crisis in Agriculture

Part of Opposition Day – in the House of Commons at 5:44 pm on 1st February 2001.

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Photo of David Drew David Drew Labour/Co-operative, Stroud 5:44 pm, 1st 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.