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House of Commons

Thursday 8 December 1994

The House met at half-past Two o'clock


[ Madam Speaker-- in the Chair ]


City of Westminster Bill

[Lords] ( By Order ) Order for consideration, as amended, read.

To be considered on Thursday 15 December.

Oral Answers to Questions


Battery Hens

1. Mr. Lewis: To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what measures he proposes to improve the welfare of battery hens.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mrs. Angela Browning): Regulations implementingdirective 88/166 setting out minimum standards for the welfare of laying hens kept in battery cages will come fully into force on 1 January 1995.

Mr. Lewis: Notwithstanding that reply, does the Minister agree that a comprehensive labelling system might be better for birds than those regulations? There is a great deal of misleading information in our shops about farm fresh or country fresh eggs. Would the welfare of battery hens not be improved if the shopper knew the exact origin of the eggs that he was buying?

Mrs. Browning: We believe that it is important that the consumer is not misled in any way. We shall continue to monitor carefully any claims made on egg packaging.

Mr. Riddick: Is my hon. Friend aware that many poultry farmers feel that we are applying the new regulations on cage sizes for battery hens much more stringently than our European partners? Why is it that we always seem to abide by the rules while our so-called partners appear not to do so?

Mrs. Browning: I can assure my hon. Friend that the welfare of battery hens is of paramount importance. We have pressed for much higher standards, particularly in respect of cage sizes, which will apply, for example, to cages containing fewer than three birds. Therefore, although I sympathise with my hon. Friend's claim that other countries do not keep to the rules, we do, and we want to bring their standards up to our extremely high levels.

Mr. Morley: Does the Minister agree that it is not enough just to monitor the labelling of eggs? Is she aware that the National Opinion Poll organisation found that 34 per cent. of consumers thought that eggs labelled "farm

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fresh" were free range when they were, in fact, battery eggs? Does she agree that it should not be left to the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals to introduce schemes such as the "Freedom Food" scheme, excellent though it is? We need less monitoring and more action.

Mrs. Browning: I was discussing this matter with the industry only this week. It, too, is aware of the problem and is anxious to show the consumer that claims made on packaging are true and to ensure that the consumer is correctly informed. I assure the hon. Gentleman that we shall continue to monitor the matter carefully.

Mrs. Ann Winterton: Will my hon. Friend continue to try to raise standards of welfare for battery hens in Europe while bearing it in mind that we are operating within a single market? Will she ensure that the Government do not introduce unilateral new regulations which would undermine our competitiveness?

Mrs. Browning: Yes, I can assure my hon. Friend of that, but she will be aware that the directive which I mentioned requires the Community to review its detail. We shall be asking specifically for significantly increased cage sizes and for the enrichment of cages by means of perches and scratching bars. We shall also ask for the regulations to pay particular attention to the welfare of laying hens which are not necessarily battery hens.

York Offices

2. Mr. Bayley: To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food when his Ministry's new office at King's Pool, York, will open; and how many staff will be recruited from the York area to work there.

The Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. William Waldegrave): The new offices at King's Pool opened on schedule on 1October 1994. Around 250 local staff now work in these offices.

Mr. Bayley: I am told by the personnel department at King's Pool that it is well pleased with the quality of the staff whom it has recruited locally. In just over a year, the Ministry will be recruiting staff for the central science laboratory at Sand Hutton just outside York. How many local staff does the Minister expect to recruit then, and will the Ministry again give priority to providing jobs for other civil servants, principally those from the Ministry of Defence, who are being made redundant in north Yorkshire?

Mr. Waldegrave: The Ministry is, indeed, extremely pleased with the quality of people, which may surprise the hon. Gentleman. The estimate is that between 150 and 250 locally employed staff will be needed at the central science laboratory when it is completed in 1996, if it is still relevant then. As in the case of the development in the hon. Gentleman's constituency, we will see whether we can employ people, particularly from the Ministry of Defence, in the area where we have taken on a number of people--about 100, I think.

Mr. David Nicholson: I commend the ancient northern capital to my right hon. Friend, as my wife was at university there. Will he ensure that his Department's officials, wherever they are located, work hard in conjunction with those in the Department of the Environment on studying where the next generation of

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farmers will come from, particularly as so many present farmers are near retirement and many sons and daughters--

Madam Speaker: Order. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will explain to me- -but later--how that refers to the area of York. It was a good try, but even in the season of good will, I cannot allow that.

Mr. Nicholson: I am referring to the work of officials situated at York.

Madam Speaker: The hon. Gentleman might make that clear at the beginning. We are not terribly interested where his wife was educated, provided that she was educated.

Mr. Nicholson: I am grateful to you, Madam Speaker.

Will my right hon. Friend's officials at York work hard on this important matter and will they pay particular attention to the problems posed for the new generation of farmers by the present price of leasing milk quota?

Mr. Waldegrave: My officials based in York and elsewhere will, of course, take those matters seriously. I can assure my hon. Friend that the strength of the young farmers clubs in the area of York means that there is a supply of good farmers coming from that neighbourhood.

Infant Formulae

3. Mr. Faber: To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food when he plans to lay before Parliament the final version of the infant formula and follow-on formula regulations.

Mrs. Browning: We hope to lay these regulations shortly.

Mr. Faber: Is my hon. Friend aware that the continuing delay is causing grave uncertainty for companies such as Cow and Gate in my constituency? Can she at least give them some reassurance that when the regulations are laid before Parliament, they will contain none of the ludicrous over-regulation contained in the draft regulations last year, in particular a proposed ban on the marketing and advertising of baby milk, which would deprive millions of mothers of the right to choose how to feed and bring up their children?

Mrs. Browning: I am aware of my hon. Friend's interest in this subject, particularly as he raised it in an Adjournment debate in April. I can assure him that we have received a wide range of submissions, both for and against. That is why there has been a delay; we really do need to consider them all carefully. I hope that it will not be too long before we are able to give him a decision, but I can assure him that all the points that he has raised today are being taken into consideration.

Mr. Flynn: Will the Minister not be persuaded by the arguments of commercial interests, many of which are profit hungry, and remember that all the studies prove that the best, the most effective and the healthiest way in which to feed infants is the natural way?

Mrs. Browning: The hon. Gentleman will be aware that there are already some voluntary restrictions in that area. Although, of course, we would not disagree with his suggestion that breast milk is the most favourable method, we are aware that there are mothers who unfortunately

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cannot breast feed, and I would not wish from the Dispatch Box to make them feel that they were under some pressure in that area. All views will be taken into account.


4. Mr. Lester: To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what actions he took on apple day to help the apple industry.

5. Mr. Butler: To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what steps are being taken to encourage British shops to sell British apples, in place of foreign imports.

The Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. Michael Jack): On apple day and at the Marden fruit show, as oother occasions, I have taken part in initiatives to promote British apples in order to assist their greater sale.

Mr. Lester: My hon. Friend will agree that British apples are among the best in the world, particularly the Bramley apple, which comes from Southwell in Nottinghamshire. Will he consider mounting a national apple pie competition, of pies made with Bramley apples, so that those who do not understand how good those apples are and how scrumptious are apple pies made with them can do so?

Mr. Jack: My hon. Friend, who comes from Nottingham, the home of the Bramley apple, is entirely in apple pie order. At the start of the promotion of Bramley apples this year, I took part in an apple pie-making activity and will certainly commend his very excellent idea to those in English apples and pears who do such a marvellous job in promoting our excellent apples.

Mr. Butler: Does my hon. Friend accept that, although it is welcome, the awarding of grants for the grubbing out of redundant orchards has not yet tackled the problem? Will he urge the Commission to put into effect its current proposal to reduce the intervention price of apples? Furthermore, does he agree that French Golden Delicious, which have invaded our shores, are--being French--tasteless, and are neither golden nor delicious? [Hon. Members:-- "Super!"] Does he agree that English Coxes are the best?

Mr. Jack: I certainly agree with the findings of my hon. Friend's discerning palate, and not with the somewhat disparaging cry of "Super!" from Opposition Members.

My hon. Friend went to the heart of the matter when he mentioned the grubbing grant. We have had 166 applications in this country for 1,600 hectares, but it is crucial that, in the long term, taking out surplus apples has the maximum effect in Italy and France, where apples are grown not for the marketplace but for intervention purposes. In the long term, we should phase out intervention altogether: it distorts the market unnecessarily.

Mr. Enright: In his pursuit of British apples, will the Minister also not discriminate against English rhubarb? Will he set up a rhubarb day involving rhubarb pie, and take to making that dish?

Mr. Jack: The hon. Gentleman may not be aware that I grew up in Yorkshire, and know a good bit of Wakefield

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rhubarb when I see it. Last year, my hon. Friend the Member for Crawley (Mr. Soames) received a delegation of rhubarb growers, and he has done his best to promote that excellent vegetable--and, indeed, not to talk rhubarb.

Mr. Graham: The Minister will remember one of the finest slogans ever used--"An apple a day keeps the doctor away". I have been eating apples in order to lose four stone, and I can recommend them as part of a healthy diet. We should do everything possible to help the British apple, because--as the hon. Member for Milton Keynes, North-East (Mr. Butler) said --they are some of the finest apples produced in the world.

Mr. Jack: I am delighted that the English apple industry has contributed to the hon. Gentleman's robust and healthy looks. He is absolutely right: the potential for more fruit consumption, which is mentioned in a recently published report by the Committee on Medical Aspects of Food Policy, shows just what can be done. Fruit consumption in this country is too low, but with the hon. Gentleman as an advertisement I am sure that more will be eaten.

Common Agricultural Policy

6. Lady Olga Maitland: To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what plans he has for the further reform of the common agricultural policy.

8. Mr. Robathan: To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what plans he has to reform the common agricultural policy.

12. Mr. Lidington: To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will make a statement about his policy group on the reform of the CAP.

Mr. Waldegrave: I meet my European colleagues regularly to discuss all aspects of the common agricultural policy, including current proposals for the reform of those sectors not covered by the 1992 reform agreement, such as wine. However, in the long term, we will need a more fundamental reform. On 6 December, I announced the names of a group of independent experts who will help the Department and me to develop our thinking.

Lady Olga Maitland: I thank my right hon. Friend for his reply. Is he aware that the Leader of the Opposition has said that he will never allow this country to become isolated in Europe? Does he agree that there are times when we must stand apart, be independent and fight for Britain's interests?

Mr. Waldegrave: My hon. Friend gives a wise example. Although some voices in the European Community are beginning to support us in regard to fundamental reform of the CAP, for a long time we were alone in arguing for it. In that instance, Britain was right to be alone. The argument that we should never be isolated is very foolish, and would often lead to decisions that were not in Britain's best interests.

Mr. Robathan: My right hon. Friend used to be Secretary of State for Health, and I know that he disapproves of the European Community's subsidising tobacco. I understand that the Department of Health spends £20 million on encouraging people not to smoke.

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What plans will my right hon. Friend present to stop the Community from spending £500 million or more on tobacco growing?

Mr. Waldegrave: My hon. Friend is right about both my personal views and the Government's policy. I think it is wrong for us, and some other countries in Europe, to campaign against smoking if the CAP then adopts a regime that subsidises the growing of tobacco. I hope that, over time, we shall win over more allies to the idea that we do not need such a regime.

Mr. Lidington: Has my right hon. Friend assessed the likely impact on the CAP of the accession to the European Union of the Visegrad countries of central Europe? Is there any sign that the European Commission and other European countries are taking seriously the gravity of the challenge that that move will impose on the CAP?

Mr. Waldegrave: My hon. Friend has put his finger on what will be the cause of further fundamental change in the CAP, of which I am glad. I do not see how the CAP can take on board countries of central and eastern Europe--which, before the war and before the communists ruined their agricultural systems, were extremely powerful agricultural producers-- without further fundamental reform. Some parts of the European Commission seem to be beginning to recognise that. Directorate-General II has recently issued a good report, known as the Munk report, that advances many of the same arguments as the Government. In his speech at the Royal Institute of International Affairs conference last Friday, however, Commissioner Steichen did not seem to recognise the scale of the challenge that faces the agricultural part of the Commission.

Mr. Stevenson: Does the Minister agree that the sugar sector would be a crucial part of any CAP reform and that any reform of that sector would heavily depend on our commitments under the general agreement on tariffs and trade, which requires the European Community to reduce its sugar exports by about 36 per cent? Does he further agree that the two basic ways of achieving that are to reduce the quota or to reduce price? If those are the two basic elements, will he ensure that any quota reduction takes place in European Union countries whose quotas are in excess of their production requirements and that imports from African, Caribbean and Pacific countries are protected, because they need that protection to develop?

Mr. Waldegrave: The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. By far the best way of reforming the regime would be to bring down the price while protecting imports from ACP countries. The Commission's proposals are not nearly radical enough. Within what the Commission proposes, I shall do my best to ensure that British quotas are not discriminated against--after all, we consume up to the limit of our quota. I do not find anything with which to disagree in what the hon. Gentleman said.

Mr. Tyler: Will the Minister confirm that nothing in the current CAP milk regime prevents him from taking action on the spiralling cost of the milk quota, including milk both for lease and for sale? Is that not a home- grown problem rather than a CAP problem? Will the right hon. Gentleman also confirm that nothing in the CAP regime prevents him from using his powers to confiscate unused

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quota from non-producers who hoard it for speculative purposes? Is he aware that many dairy farmers are on the brink of bankruptcy because of the problem?

Mr. Waldegrave: It follows, just as night follows day, that, if the milk price goes up, the quota value goes up--that is what a market is all about. The hon. Gentleman is not right to say that this is a home-grown problem, because part of the problem derives from the fact that the national quota is lower than national consumption. If we could achieve the transferability of milk quota across national boundaries in the European Community, as many people have argued we should, a great deal of good would be done to relieve the pressure on people who are having to pay more for quota than they would like.

Mr. Dafis: Does the Department have any information on the degree of equability in the distribution of farm support, both among different-sized farms and among different regions in the United Kingdom? Does the Minister accept that any CAP reform must aim for greater equability in that regard and for the retention of at least the present level of employment in agricultural farming? Will he consider carefully the recommendations in the recent Friends of the Earth report entitled "Working Future" in relation to that matter?

Mr. Waldegrave: We have to be careful about this argument because what we call small farms in the UK are large farms in terms of farm holdings in Europe. If we begin to accept the language of bias towards what Europe calls small farms, we shall ruin British farmers, large and small. Although it sounds an attractive slogan, I do not think that it is helpful in terms of British agricultural structure. Nothing will better maintain the welfare of people in the farming sector than the removal of as many quantitative controls as possible, which have grown in the short term, in a more fundamental, long-term reform of the CAP to bring it closer to the market and to allow people who have good products to sell them freely.

Mr. Colvin: Will my right hon. Friend use all his influence to try to ensure that CAP 3 takes all the rural economy into account and not just agriculture?

Mr. Waldegrave: With my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment, I have launched the process that will lead, next year, to the production of a White Paper that will cover the rural economy more generally. I therefore sympathise with what my hon. Friend has said, because when we consider the health of rural areas, we should look not only at agriculture but at a number of other sources of income and constraints on prosperity.

Bovine Immunodeficiency Virus

7. Mr. Cox: To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if steps are being taken by the Ministry to restrict BIV-infected livestock from entering the United Kingdom.

Mrs. Browning: The Government have considered that very carefully, commissioning research and consulting not only independent scientific experts in this country, but the leading researchers in north America and Europe. There is no scientific evidence relating to BIV that would justify

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placing restrictions on livestock to be imported into the United Kingdom, and we are not aware that such restrictions have been imposed by any other country.

Mr. Cox: Although I note that reply, is the Minister aware that that view is not held by many in the farming community? There is clear evidence that cattle from central Europe, which are imported here via western Europe, are infected with BIV. In view of the high quality of British cattle stocks, will the Minister assure the House that the quality and health of animals imported to Britain will be subject to rigid control?

Mrs. Browning: I can indeed assure the hon. Gentleman of that. He will be aware that harmonised EC regulations governing the importation of cattle and animals are now in force. They require that an imported animal must have a certificate of health, signed by a veterinarian from the exporter country, and put the onus on the importers to ensure that they are satisfied that that animal is healthy and has the necessary certification.

Mr. Martyn Jones: Does not Milk Marque take a different view by refusing to purchase milk from the BIV-affected farm in Cheshire? If it turns out that that strain of BIV is particularly virulent, is it not irresponsible of the Government not to take any precautions now, before the results of the investigation are known? They should make the disease notifiable, compensate the farmer and undertake an in-depth study of the disease. The potential danger posed to the dairy industry by that disease is disastrous.

Mrs. Browning: I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman takes that line, because it overstates the importance of the virus. We would not normally discuss the farm in Cheshire in detail, but given that the owners have made public the information relating to their animals, it is important to make the case clear. The decision by the Milk Marketing Board and, subsequently, Milk Marque not to purchase the milk is purely a commercial decision between those organisations and the owners of the milk.

For many years, the virus has occurred in numerous cases in America, Canada and, in particular, Australia. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that we have not been advised by those countries to restrict the sale and use of milk. I can also assure the hon. Gentleman that, even if the virus is detected in raw milk, it is killed by pasteurisation.

Rural White Paper

9. Mr. Jacques Arnold: To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what progress he has made on the rural White Paper.

Mr. Waldegrave: An interdepartmental group of officials has been set up, led jointly by the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and the Department of the Environment. We have been in touch with more than 200 organisations to request their views. A very wide welcome has been received from interested organisations.

Mr. Arnold: Does my right hon. Friend agree that the rural White Paper is a magnificent opportunity for our rural areas--in particular, their towns and villages--to make considerable progress? Should we not broaden the

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scope of the White Paper to take in other Departments of State, so that they, too, consider their services to the rural areas?

Mr. Waldegrave: It is a good opportunity. For many years, people have argued for a White Paper that looked across the board at policy affecting the rural economy. I agree with my hon. Friend that other Departments should be involved. The steering group is based on the two principal Departments, but others, such as Education, Transport and the Home Office, will be closely involved.

Dr. Strang: Before the Government start to write the White Paper, will the Minister remove the sword of Damocles that he is hanging over the heads of hundreds of thousands of rural workers? Since the report by the London School of Economics, which the Government commissioned, has repudiated any adverse link between minimum wage rates and employment levels, will the right hon. Gentleman now abandon his plan to abolish the agricultural wages boards and, instead, retain them as they stand?

Mr. Waldegrave: The hon. Gentleman knows that we are still considering the replies which we have received, which were not unanimous. There are two views on the matter, which I am considering.

Sir Kenneth Carlisle: Does my right hon. Friend accept that it is good news that he and the Department of the Environment are working closely together to take policies forward? Does he agree that one of the most beneficial things for the countryside generally would be the spread of farm woodlands? Will he and his Department ensure that pressure is put on the Commission to allow the planting of farm woodlands to count against set- aside?

Mr. Waldegrave: Immediately after questions in the House today, I shall be meeting the German Minister, Herr Borchert, who holds the presidency of the Agriculture Council. I shall be raising that matter with him in the hope that we can at least get an agreement in principle on what my hon. Friend is arguing for in the Council next week.

Agricultural Tenancies

11. Mrs. Angela Knight: To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what representations he has had indicating support for the Government's proposed changes to agricultural tenancies.

Mr. Waldegrave: During the last 18 months my Department has received 185 representations via hon. Members and a further 28 addressed to Ministers directly. The majority of these were supportive. The proposals in the Bill are based on an agreement between the Country Landowners Association, the National Farmers Union, the Tenant Farmers Association and the National Federation of Young Farmers' Clubs.

Mrs. Knight: Can my right hon. Friend confirm that an independent survey has estimated that, as a result of his proposals, there will be an increase of 10 per cent. in the land available to let? Does he agree that that will give significant encouragement, particularly to young farmers to enter the industry?

Mr. Waldegrave: There has been an immensely wide welcome for the proposals, and I can confirm that there

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has been such an independent survey. The Institute of Chartered Surveyors said that there may be 1 million acres of land under management by its members which are likely to come forward for new tenancies as a result of the measure. That is welcome indeed.

Common Agricultural Policy

13. Mr. Simpson: To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what has been the net United Kingdom contribution to the common agricultural policy for each of the last 10 years as measured in current prices.

Mr. Jack: The United Kingdom does not contribute to the CAP directly but to the Community budget as a whole.

Mr. Simpson: Is the Minister aware that, as part of our contribution to the budget as a whole, we have been contributing to the accumulation of a wine lake which amounts now to 19 billion bottles of wine? That could provide a Christmas gift of 500 bottles of wine to every adult in the United Kingdom. Does the Minister agree that--while he is not in a position to distribute the surplus freely--it is a wasted accumulation to which we ought not to contribute?

Mr. Jack: A voice of irreverence behind me has suggested that the hon. Gentleman might like to contribute to removing some of that lake himself.

On a more serious note, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will be including in his discussions with the German presidency the question of the reform of the wine regime which the Community must and will address.

Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman: Does my hon. Friend concur that the contribution is by no means a one-way street? In this country, out of £600 million pounds of compensation payments, £100 million comes from the Treasury and £500 million from Europe.

Mr. Jack: I think that my hon. Friend is referring to issues connected with hill farms and her analysis, which points to greater receipts from Community schemes to hill farmers of both sheep and cattle, is absolutely right. I was also delighted by my right hon. Friend's announcement that we were able to maintain unchanged this year's hill livestock compensatory allowance payments.

Dr. Strang: The Secretary of State's think tank is all very well, but when will the Government seriously tackle common agricultural policy fraud? Does he recognise that fraud is inherent in the market support mechanisms of the CAP? Will he now take the bull by the horns and come out unequivocally against the open-ended state intervention buying of all agricultural commodities?

Mr. Jack: It sounds to me as though there is a typical Opposition stance on this: pull out the rug from underneath the farmers, with no idea whatever. The Government, at least, are thinking carefully about the future of the CAP. Judging by the hon. Gentleman's question, he has not a thought in his head. I heard him interviewed on "Farming Today". When asked what he would do, there was a bit of radio silence. I am disappointed that the hon. Gentleman does not acknowledge what the United Kingdom has done in leading the fight against fraud. If he were keeping up with affairs, he would know that only yesterday we agreed the beginning of a Community black list to stop fraudsters illegally claiming money in different parts of the

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Community when they are under investigation. With our support, more than 50 new members of staff have been allocated within the Community's anti-fraud unit. I could go on. The Conservative party takes the fight against fraud extremely seriously.


14. Sir Peter Emery: To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what sum was spent by his Department on research for the last three years; what percentage this was of the total annual budget; what is the budget for the forthcoming year; what percentage this is of his total budget; and what additional new research is to be undertaken.

Mr. Jack: The Ministry has spent £121.5 million, £132.9 million and £137.3 million respectively. This represents 17 per cent., 18 per cent. and 19 per cent. of the total annual budgets for those years. Funding for a wide range of research and development in 1995-96 will be around £140 million or 17 per cent. of the total budget.

Sir Peter Emery: The increase which the Minister announced is obviously welcome. What part of it applies to the west country? Will he ensure that aspects of research on grasslands, which are important in terms of milk production, will continue?

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