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Mr. Brown: I thank the hon. Member for South Suffolk (Mr. Yeo) for wishing me well. I hate to think what he would sound like if I had fallen out with him.

I said that I wanted to involve farmers' leaders in continuing discussions with the Government as the Agenda 2000 package develops. Indeed, we shall have detailed negotiations on that at next week's meeting of the Council of Ministers.

The Government paid for the setting-up costs of the cattle tracing scheme, and relieved the industry of the first year of charges. I shall want to discuss the matter further with the industry, but there will come a time when the charges will have to be transferred to it.

As someone who eats and enjoys eating meat, I am keen for slaughterhouses to be regulated. Regulation is essential to ensuring the safety of the food that is sold.

The hon. Gentleman asked about the beef ban. I have high hopes that we shall be able to secure the implementation of the Commission's proposal for a date-based exports scheme at the meeting of the Council of Ministers on Monday and Tuesday next week. The hon. Gentleman and I share an objective in this regard. As the House will recall, it was the policy of the Conservative party to bring about the lifting of the ban by November; I hope that I shall get it lifted by November--although, admittedly, it will not be the same November. The House will notice another essential difference, in that I am likely to achieve the objective.

My statement contained a good deal for the dairy industry. The hon. Gentleman also referred to the poultry industry. I met representatives of the industry this morning, and they put to me a number of points that I considered entirely reasonable. I shall think very hard about what I can do. The hon. Gentleman was right to put the issue in the context of my initial meeting with the British Retail Consortium, but I intend to meet its representatives again. I am trying to establish a continuing dialogue with retailers, producers and others who work in the food industry, so that we can work co-operatively, rather than the whole industry being characterised by a series of adversarial stances.

I thought that the hon. Gentleman's welcome for my statement was heartfelt, and I am sorry that the rest of his contribution fell away a bit. I noted, however, that he was asking for more money, and I hope that he has cleared that with the shadow Chancellor.

Several hon. Members rose--

Mr. Brown: Can I make just one point?

The hon. Member for South Suffolk constantly refers to annually managed expenditure, and confuses it with an underspend or a drawdown from the reserve. If an estimate of demand-led expenditure is not reached, that does not allow the Department to take the rest of the money and spend it on something else. A fair-minded House will realise that I did rather better in my relationships with the real Chancellor of the Exchequer than the hon. Gentleman has done in his with the shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer.

Mr. John Home Robertson (East Lothian): As the owner of a farming business that is determined to do

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everything possible to keep five men employed--perhaps I should declare an interest--may I express my personal thanks, and, I think, the thanks of farmers throughout the United Kingdom, for a package that demonstrates the Labour Government's powerful commitment to rural Britain?

On a separate point, will my right hon. Friend comment on the huge discrepancies between farmgate prices and the prices that are charged by many supermarkets for many commodities? Can anything further be done about the problem?

Mr. Brown: I am always happy to hear of a pleased farmer. In fact, after today's announcement, I think that I will even be able to find one or two outside the ranks of the parliamentary Labour party. Nevertheless, I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his support for and welcome to today's announcement.

The Office of Fair Trading is taking a hard look at the discrepancy between farmgate prices and prices in the supermarkets. While I want to keep the different bits of the food sector in continuing dialogue, I am also taking an intelligent interest, as I know many others are, in the OFT investigation, and I look forward to receiving its eventual report.

Mr. Charles Kennedy (Ross, Skye and Inverness, West): I welcome the statement and the package of measures contained therein, which will find a broad echo among all rural constituents in all parts of the UK. Does the Minister agree that there is a salutary nature to it, in that it is the second package of relief measures that the Government have been obliged to introduce within the space of 12 calendar months? That in itself vindicates the campaigning that farmers have been undertaking, as well as the parliamentary support, to be fair, in all quarters of the House that has been expressed consistently over that period.

Without being churlish, I think that many hon. Members will reflect on the fact that, not under the current Minister's tenure, but under his predecessor's, if there had been more willingness to try to access a greater extent of the EU compensatory funds earlier, many of those we represent would not be in the depth of difficulty to which they have sunk throughout this calendar year.

As the Minister says, it is inevitably a series of short-term measures. May I therefore direct him beyond the statement--there is no great disagreement about those short-term measures; that is self-evident--to three specific things that he may wish to consider for the future? The first is calling in the chairmen of major high street banks to underscore to them the Government's continuing commitment to agriculture and the need for them to show continuing commitment to farmers who are their customers. That would do a lot to offer stability at community level.

Secondly, on marketing, not least given the Northern Ireland experience since the beef ban was lifted--[Hon. Members: "Where are they?"] Well, perhaps they are out marketing their products. Will the Minister acknowledge that the Northern Ireland experience underscores the need for an aggressive and high-profile marketing drive, both in this country and, more important, in the export markets to which we hope to regain access? Will he do more about that?

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Thirdly, will the Minister give even greater emphasis to labelling? There is no doubt that, if there is one silver lining to the overlying cloud that agriculture has been under, it is the fact that at least the British consumer is now more alert to, conscious of, and indeed patriotic about, content, but that that content has to be clearly indicated, particularly with European import products? Will he give further emphasis to that as well?

Mr. Brown: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his welcome to the package. I am in discussions with the British Retail Consortium over labelling schemes, with the Meat and Livestock Commission over marketing schemes and I am due to see representatives of the high street banks shortly to discuss the finance of agricultural businesses.

The package was shaped by farmers themselves. When I went to their big rally at Blackpool, I said that I was going to listen, to learn and to help if I could. I listened very carefully to what they said, and I hope that the package meets, at least in part, the commitments that I gave them then.

Dr. Gavin Strang (Edinburgh, East and Musselburgh): Is my right hon. Friend aware that his announcement deserves a warm welcome because of the benefit that it will bring to the industry at a time of massive crisis? Does he agree that the hon. Member for South Suffolk (Mr. Yeo), who speaks for the Opposition, might show a little more humility, not only because of the extent to which his Government compounded the effect of the BSE crisis on the industry, but because, last Wednesday, an article by the Leader of the Opposition in the Daily Telegraph made it clear that there is no way that a Conservative Government would have found the money for this package? Will my right hon. Friend confirm that all the money in the package is new money for the benefit of the industry?

Mr. Brown: The bulk of the money is new money that has been given by the Chancellor from the reserve. Some of it is recoverable through the CAP and from the European Union, but even the share that is recoverable in respect of hill livestock compensatory allowances requires a further 71 per cent. contribution from the UK Exchequer, because of the Fontainebleau agreement that was negotiated in 1996. I welcome what my right hon. Friend said about the shape of the package, and thank him for his support.

Mr. Peter Luff (Mid-Worcestershire): The Minister will obviously understand that there is great pleasure that today the Lord has given, but there is also concern that in future he may take away. I think particularly of the possible imposition of new charges for a meat hygiene service--specified risk material charges, cattle passports and the threat of a pesticides tax. I urge the Minister to keep all those matters under careful review at a time of great difficulty in the farming industry--difficulty that is likely to endure well beyond today's statement.

On a separate issue, who will lead the review of rural economy policy, an interesting footnote to the Minister's statement? Will it be him or his colleagues at the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions?

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