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Mr. Lembit Öpik (Montgomeryshire): Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that it is a source of great concern that the dairy industry, which should be the natural point of entry into farming, is now becoming difficult to join? That is putting off potential young farmers who are failing to come into agriculture. That is causing a crisis because of the aging farming population and the lack of entrants to it.

Mr. Wigley: Yes. It means a loss of continuity on family farms. The lack of young farmers also poses an implicit threat to manufacturing organisations that depend on the products of our dairy farms. The manufacturer of cheese in my constituency depends on the milk produced by the local dairy sector. If that sector is undermined there will be a knock-on effect on the manufacturing sector.

The benefits provided by the aid schemes designed to help beef farmers have been drastically reduced. That is partly due to the six revaluations of the green pound in the past 18 months. The benefits of the over-30-months scheme have also been severely eroded by the Government's decision to place a 560 kg weight limit for compensation. Those two factors have reduced the compensation available on an average animal of 600 kg from £513 in June 1996 to just £311 in November 1997--a loss of more than £200 per animal. Again, that has hit the farming community hard.

Let us consider the additional burdens that the Government have specifically and deliberately placed on our farmers. The subsidy on rendering will be phased out and will end on 1 February. That will place an additional £47 million cost on cattle farmers and an additional £25 million cost on sheep farmers. The Government are also placing a duty on the farming industry to absorb the costs of the Meat Hygiene Service with regard to specified risk materials. That will be equivalent to an additional cost burden of £16 million on the cattle sector and £24 million on the sheep sector. In addition, the charges incurred under the cattle movement service--the passport scheme--will place an additional £20 million cost on the cattle sector. The double tagging regulations will place a £3 million burden on the cattle sector. Taken together, those costs account for additional annual costs of £86 million on the cattle sector, which is equivalent to £38 per head of cattle, and £50 million on the sheep sector, which is equivalent to £3 per head of sheep.

In other words, the entirety of the £85 million help for farming announced by the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food on 22 December has been more than recouped by the Government through higher charges. What a vicious, cynical and double-dealing betrayal of the farmers of Wales--the Government are getting back every penny that they said they were giving to help farmers. No wonder our farmers are angry and no wonder we heard last night of demands at Cross Hands for a change in Government policy. Farmers have every right to be angry: they were landed in a predicament by the failures of the previous Government, and they have had their plight first ignored and then appallingly treated by the present Government. Later today, farmers will be watching closely to see who will bear the costs of the new

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food safety scheme. Certainly, the general costs should be borne by the general taxpayer, instead of additional costs landing on the beleaguered farmers.

The sheep sector has been hit by the high pound. The exporting of lamb has been one of the big success stories of the Welsh economy in recent years, but that is now jeopardised. Any failure of the export markets leads to a flooding of animals on to the home markets, which drives prices down. This month, lambs are selling at 94p per kilogram, compared to 132p per kilogram 12 months ago. Only yesterday, our former colleague in the House, Lord Geraint, who has great personal detailed knowledge of these matters, told me that, very recently, he bought hoggets for £9.14 each--half the price he would have paid 12 months ago. As a man from Ceredigion, no doubt he saw a bargain when one was put before him, but his experience reflects the problems facing those who are selling and the difficulties in the sheep sector. Those issues must be given attention.

In summary, we want to secure the immediate lifting of the beef export ban and we want an end to the weight limits in the over-30-months scheme. We want the Government to absorb the costs of passport charges and of the Meat and Hygiene Service, which is in the interests of both the general public and farmers. We want the Government to give more aid by bidding for the entirety of the £980 million available from Europe to compensate for the green pound. We want more details to be made available about the December package, so that we know exactly how it is to work.

We want lower interest rates, which will bring down the parity of the pound. We want the Government to bear the costs of the traceability scheme in Wales, as they do in Northern Ireland. We want the Government to give adequate funding for an all-Wales agri-environmental scheme and avoid unnecessary bureaucracy in such schemes.

We also want the Welsh Office to speed up payments for which farmers are eligible--there have been quite inexcusable delays in making payments in recent months, which is adding to the cash flow problems facing many farmers. We want the Government to encourage supermarkets to label clearly the countries of origin of the meat products they sell and to support home-grown food. In any reform of the common agricultural policy, we want to ensure that small family farms are safeguarded through having an upper limit on subsidies--in other words, we want modulation policies to be introduced.

The crisis is of direct concern to me, to my colleagues and to my constituents. Had my grandfather, an upland hill farmer in Montgomeryshire, not died when my father was only five years old, I--or a version of me--might well have been one of the beleaguered farmers in Wales today. I know from family, friends and constituents that unless the crisis is sorted out fast, the whole fabric of rural Wales will be destroyed. The clock is ticking and we are at the eleventh hour. The Minister and his colleagues must respond more positively, more generously and more urgently. I hope that today he can give some hopeful news to the farmers of Wales and that the rural parts of Wales will be able to look forward to better prospects than they have faced recently.

9.53 am

Mr. Huw Edwards (Monmouth): I thank you, Madam Speaker, for granting this Adjournment debate. I congratulate the right hon. Member for Caernarfon

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(Mr. Wigley) on his well-crafted speech. I shall, first, outline the situation in Welsh agriculture as it affects farmers in Monmouthshire; secondly, consider the short-term measures that were recently announced; and, thirdly, examine the need for long-term strategic measures to ensure a more successful future for agriculture in Monmouthshire and the rest of Wales.

In recent weeks, we have seen peaceful demonstrations by farmers in Abergavenny and Monmouth. I support my constituents in undertaking those demonstrations, as I have supported demonstrations by those concerned about the crisis in education, the national health service and the mining community. We also saw a mass lobby of the House by farmers from Wales and I was pleased to be able to share a platform with the right hon. Member for Caernarfon and the hon. Members for Brecon and Radnorshire (Mr. Livsey), for Ynys Mon (Mr. Jones) and for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans)--

Mr. Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy) indicated assent.

Mr. Öpik indicated assent.

Mr. Edwards: and, of course, with the hon. Members for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Llwyd) and for Montgomeryshire (Mr. Öpik) and all other hon. Members who contributed to that event. That shows that, when there is a national crisis, it is important that we do not indulge in futile political point scoring.

I also pay tribute to the representatives of the main farming unions in Wales for the way in which they have briefed Members of Parliament, for their determined campaign on behalf of their members and for the evidence they submitted to the Select Committee on Welsh Affairs, whose brief inquiry into the crisis in Welsh agriculture is still going on. Like other hon. Members here today, I am honoured to be a member of that Select Committee.

The thousands of Welsh farmers who lobbied Parliament demonstrated their concern about the serious crisis in Welsh agriculture, which will have an impact on the Welsh economy in general and in my constituency. More recently, I addressed a mass meeting in Abergavenny of more than 300 farmers, who asked a wide range of questions, which I have sent to my hon. Friend the Minister. They ask whether consideration could be given again to supporting farmers for the end product, although I doubt whether that is likely to happen; and they want further assurances about the labelling of meat.

As the right hon. Member for Caernarfon said, there is considerable concern about payments overdue from September, October and November, and concern that equivalent payments from the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food in England have been made, whereas those from the agriculture division of the Welsh Office have not.

Mr. Livsey: I addressed a meeting in Brecon of about 350 farmers. We took a poll of the number of people who had not received suckler cow payments and found that 54 farmers at that meeting had not been paid.

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