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Mr. Brown: On the last point, I am working with my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister on the

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broader rural agenda, which properly is a matter for both our Departments. Of course, we will consult the territorial Departments as well.

As Chair of the Agriculture Select Committee, the hon. Gentleman is right to remind the House about charges. I intend to discuss those matters further with the industry, but I did say some time ago that there would come a time when charges were transferred from the public purse, which is carrying them at the moment, to the industry. It is clearly right that it should meet those costs in the longer term. Traceability, which underpins the larger of the charges, is here to stay. We would be complete fools to try to push that regime backwards, because it is a requirement of consumer confidence.

Ms Chris McCafferty (Calder Valley): I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his sensitivity to the special needs of hill farmers. It has never been easy to eke a living out of upland farming in my constituency, and today's package of measures will be especially welcome there; but will my right hon. Friend give me an assurance that, in looking to the long-term future of British agriculture, he will look for a sustainable and profitable framework for agriculture, especially for hill farmers in constituencies such as mine?

Mr. Brown: The whole purpose of today's announcement is to help hill farmers and others through times that I freely acknowledge are difficult for them. The purpose of helping them through is, of course, to ensure a long-term sustainable and profitable industry that they can take part in. I thank my hon. Friend for referring to my sensitivity. In my previous job, people did not make such references.

Mr. John MacGregor (South Norfolk): The Minister is aware of the serious crisis that faces pig producers--the worst I can remember--particularly smaller producers, some of whom, if not quite a number, face bankruptcy. Will he therefore clear up the confusion in relation to his meeting with the British Retail Consortium? In relation to imported products from pigs, does that relate only to fresh products, or does it relate to processed products as well? If it is the former, what further action does he intend to take? Will he also say what success he is having in Government procurement schemes, particularly in the armed forces? Is there any prospect of food aid schemes--for example, to Russia--playing a part in the matter?

Mr. Brown: I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for raising the plight of pig farmers. I am extremely sympathetic to the pig industry. As hon. Members who follow the matter know, it has a largely liberal regime, with no great state aids. There are some export refunds and some aids for private storage, but that is about the size of direct state assistance.

There are discussions on opening credit lines to Russia. There may be a possibility of humanitarian aid, including food, being taken up in those discussions, which are on-going. I should welcome anything that would help to clear the surplus from the market.

My discussions with the British Retail Consortium were a genuine attempt by me to help the industry. The agreement applied to fresh meats that would be sold stall and tether-free, and from animals that are not being fed

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bonemeal--in other words, animals that are produced to the highest United Kingdom standards. The industry's intention was that that covers not only fresh meats but processed meats, including bacon and products such as pork pies. Supermarkets were willing to take responsibility only for those processed products over which they had direct control--in other words, their own brands. However, I am assured that those account for the majority of supermarkets' volume. We shall continue with the discussions.

On the other large procurers of meat products, I am happy to tell the House that the armed forces are100 per cent. British in their purchase of pork, and just over 50 per cent. British in their purchase of bacon. They are considering ways of improving that.

Mr. Derek Foster (Bishop Auckland): May I suggest to my right hon. Friend that proof--if any were needed--that he has announced a very good package indeed was provided in the churlish welcome for it given by the hon. Member for South Suffolk (Mr. Yeo)? May I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his negotiating prowess with both the Treasury and the European Commission? May I also praise him for the very speedy way in which he has listened, learnt and now acted to deal with perhaps the worst crisis that I have known in my 20 years as the Member of Parliament for my Teesdale constituency? As hon. Members have already said, is not today's announcement proof of our Labour Government's commitment to the rural economy?

Mr. Brown: The Government are committed to the rural economy and to farmers. As proof of that, I am now willing to accept the invitation that my right hon. Friend extended to me on Thursday to go and meet his sheep farmers.

Mr. John Hayes (South Holland and The Deepings): Although I welcome the Minister's remarks on the livestock sector, will he tell the House what he is hoping to do for the arable sector? He will be aware that many arable farmers are suffering severe problems, and that prices have collapsed for various crops and products. What will he do specifically for smaller arable farmers? When may we expect an announcement on their sector? When will he tell the House of his discussions with them?

Mr. Brown: I am not in a position to announce any new or further aids, certainly not to the arable sector. If the hon. Gentleman is asking me to draw down agrimonetary compensation that is available for the arable sector, and to charge 71 per cent. of that to the British taxpayer, he should say so clearly. I have taken action--admittedly it has been modest--to help the arable sector, but it has been proportionate. The crisis in the industry is in the livestock sector.

Dr. George Turner (North-West Norfolk): As my right hon. Friend said, today's package will not financially help every farmer. However, in Norfolk, it will be broadly welcomed as a boost to the morale of almost every Norfolk farmer. My right hon. Friend has in a short time shown farmers that he has the leadership and other skills to tackle the tasks ahead. Will he be as determined as I believe he should be, and as determined as the farmers'

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union leadership is becoming, to ensure that the package will allow some time to get ahead with Agenda 2000, and not merely delay evil days?

Mr. Brown: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his remarks. I plan to embark on a continuing dialogue with those who have an interest in those matters, so that we can work together on the Agenda 2000 package and on the increasing liberalisation of world markets that will inevitably come. The United Kingdom must get ahead of the game, not run along behind it.

Mr. Anthony Steen (Totnes): The Minister has mentioned help for the upland farmers, and the farmers on Dartmoor in my constituency will be delighted to hear that. However, is he aware that, in the past few years, lowland farmers--who raise those famous Devon cattle--have borne the brunt of the problems? I am just wondering whether the Minister is planning to share with lowland farmers any of the money that he has announced for upland farmers. Will they get any help in their wonderful rearing of Devon beef?

Mr. Brown: I announced a range of measures--I did not concentrate only on less-favoured areas--and there is something in the package for the entire livestock industry. Moreover, it is a mistake to assume that one bit of the industry does not have a relationship with the other. Even the arable sector, for example, is growing food for the livestock sector. The relationships are far more complex than the hon. Gentleman's question implies. However, I am grateful for his welcome for today's announcement.

Mr. David Drew (Stroud): I congratulate my right hon. Friend on coming up with a wholesome, desperately needed package. I specifically welcome the fact that he has managed to spread help across the board--to lowland farmers and to upland farmers, especially in the calf processing aid scheme. However, may I urge him to do everything he can to help smaller farmers--particularly tenant farmers, who are going through a very difficult time--by making it clear that it is wrong to increase rents now, and that rents should be decreased if at all possible?

Mr. Brown: I am very sympathetic to my hon. Friend's comments. Although it is often rash for Ministers to make forecasts from the Dispatch Box, I suspect that, over time, agricultural rents levels will decline as a feature of broader market liberalisation. I welcome his comments on small farmers, and can announce today that I plan to visit Cornwall in January, specifically to meet representatives of small farmers. I shall make that a priority of the visit. I am grateful to my hon. Friend.

Mr. Steve Webb (Northavon): The Ministry has been honest enough to recognise that, when a farm suffers from the effects of bovine tuberculosis, compensation offered from the public purse covers only one pound in six of the farmer's true loss. Will the Minister clarify whether the package he has announced today will provide additional compensation to farmers in that very specific situation?


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