Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Several hon. Members rose--

Ms Quin: I shall take only one more intervention.

Mr. Keith Simpson: Putting aside party politics, the Minister must appreciate the desperation of pig farmers all over the country. Whether or not she thinks that they are wrong, she must accept that farmers perceive deep complacency in the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. They do not want sympathy, but action.

Ms Quin: The hon. Gentleman should listen both to me today and my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food in tomorrow's agriculture debate. It is a little odd of him to suggest that we should put party politics to one side following the highly partisan approach that has been taken today. I accept that we have had accusations of many kinds levelled at us, including complacency, but Ministers have met many pig producers--our main concern today--who understand the complexities of the situation and who realise that, far from trying to run away from the issue, we are addressing it continuously and constantly. [Interruption.] May I be allowed to make my points? There are at least two former

27 Oct 1999 : Column 987

Agriculture Ministers in the Chamber and the right hon. Members for South Norfolk (Mr. MacGregor) and for South-West Norfolk (Mrs. Shephard) ought to know that some suggestions made by the hon. Member for North Norfolk are either impossible or illegal.

In 1995 and 1996, pig prices were exceptionally high, well above the costs of production. Prices were boosted by strong third-country demand and a shortage of pigmeat from the Netherlands because of an outbreak of classical swine fever. When BSE had its first impact, the initial effects on the pig sector were positive as people bought pork and pigmeat instead of beef. That stimulated a particularly big upswing in pigmeat production.

That was followed by a welcome return to confidence in the beef sector, but unfortunately there were also international events that had a negative impact on the pig industry. In particular, there was a sharp fall in third-country demand from Russia, south-east Asia and elsewhere. The result has been a sharp reduction in pigmeat prices in the UK, elsewhere in the European Union and in other countries. UK pig prices have been below the costs of production for more than 16 months. I do not disguise from the House the fact that there is a deep and sustained crisis. The pig cycle, with alternating high and low prices, is well known from the past, but the UK pig breeding herd continues to reduce because of the current serious crisis.

During the past two or three weeks my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture has had at least three long meetings with representatives of the UK pig industry to discuss in detail how best to tackle the problem. On Monday, I walked the pig chain in Yorkshire, meeting and talking with pig farmers and processors and visiting supermarkets to discuss the labelling issues mentioned by the hon. Member for Totnes (Mr. Steen). I emphasised the importance that we attach to the industry and the ways in which we are considering issues of concern. I know that Conservative Members do not like the fact that there are no easy, instant solutions. If there were, we should wish to adopt them.

Pigmeat is covered by a relatively light regime under the common agricultural policy. Few market management measures can therefore be taken. It is not true to say that the package announced by my right hon. Friend the

27 Oct 1999 : Column 988

Minister of Agriculture a month ago contained nothing for pig producers. Areas of particular concern, such as red tape, the efficiency of the Meat Hygiene Service andthe reduction of veterinary cover at low-throughput slaughterhouses, impact on all meat sectors, including the pig sector. However, money has been earmarked to improve marketing, collaboration and competitiveness, which we wish to direct in particular towards the pig sector.

The UK supported the European Commission over last year's major increase in export refunds and the introduction of a private storage aid scheme. We regretted the Commission's withdrawal in September of the private storage aid scheme and the special export refunds to Russia. Last week, as a result, my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture wrote to Commissioner Fischler to press for reintroduction of the private storage aid scheme and for the restoration of the special export refunds to Russia.

Some points raised by Conservative Members--[Interruption.] They seem disinclined to listen to the response, but issues have been raised about the identity of British pigmeat and the high welfare and hygiene standards that it meets. Those standards--particularly on welfare--were introduced with substantial cross-party support. A private Member's initiative that had originated with the previous Government was supported strongly on both sides. A lengthy transition period was stipulated for the new regulations.

We want British consumers to understand those standards and benefit from the premium identity for British pork that they may create. The Meat and Livestock Commission's pork mark is an important unifying badge that offers assurances on methods of production and quality of product. We have been active on labelling, on which my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture made some statements at Question Time only last week. We have checked on the accuracy of labels in our shops. I raised the point at the event I attended on Monday, and was told by producers and supermarket representatives that the accuracy of labels has improved. However, we will not be content until loopholes have been properly closed to prevent consumers from being misled--

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. We must end the debate and turn to the next one.

27 Oct 1999 : Column 987

27 Oct 1999 : Column 989

Landfill (Cornwall)

1.30 pm

Ms Candy Atherton (Falmouth and Camborne): I am pleased to have secured this debate today. I understand that this is the first time that the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions, my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin), has responded to an Adjournment debate since his elevation to high office, which I am sure we all celebrate. I know that my hon. Friend is keen to ensure that justice is done and, importantly, is seen to be done.

Sadly, I fear that, in this case, the demands of clearing up Cornwall's rubbish have ridden roughshod over my constituents' needs. The county of Cornwall has run out of landfill sites and my constituents are expected to pay the price.

One case that I shall bring to the Minister's attention concerns a company set up by a local authority that has persistently sought planning permission to extend a landfill site. The case suggests that the relationship between the company and the council is too cosy and that councillors are putting expediency before local needs. The councillors say that there is no alternative, but that is rubbish.

Much of my speech will reflect the anger and distress that my constituents feel about high-profile and much-opposed proposals for landfill sites in the area. I hope that their voices will be heard and that they will not be, literally, dumped upon by local authorities in Cornwall, which have a history of failure and questionable practice.

Two landfill developments are proposed for my constituency. The first, by Cornwall Environmental Services, CES, proposes to extend an existing site at United Downs that borders the villages of Carharrack, Gwennap and St. Day. The company has submitted repeated applications, which the local community has fought for nearly a decade. The latest application is a modified version of an application that was rejected last year following an intense campaign and is currently the subject of an appeal. The second development is the proposal for a landfill site at Carnsew quarry by the village of Mabe. Each proposal has prompted vociferous and informed local opposition and each has highlighted an alarming and unimaginative continuation of landfill as the primary method of waste management in Cornwall.

Furthermore, the way in which Cornwall county council has dealt with the applications raises questions about its methods of decision making. A shady and conspiratorial impression has been created that is undermining local people's faith in some of those elected to represent them on the councils that are responsible for the decisions. In the interests of brevity, I will not detail all the reasons why I have asked the Secretary of State to call in the proposal at United Downs, but I take this opportunity to repeat that request and to state that, if and when it is granted, I will make the same plea about the proposal at Carnsew quarry.

The objections fall into three familiar categories: the potential threats to the environment and to health and a seeming ignorance of local conditions. When considering the previous application at United Mines, the waste planning authority--Cornwall county council--ruled that

27 Oct 1999 : Column 990

health risks were not deemed legitimate reasons for refusing planning permission. I am sure that hon. Members will agree that that is an unbelievable assertion and I shall be interested to hear my hon. Friend's views on the matter. It is hard to believe that health considerations are not deemed important enough to merit attention in this sensitive area and, if necessary, to cause the refusal of the applications.

Many local people live in properties close to the borders of the proposed site and the extension. One constituent at United Downs lives a mere 10 m from the site--for those who still struggle with metric measurements, that is less than the length of one cricket pitch. Given the recent suggestions of a link between birth defects and landfill sites, I defy anyone to say that he or she would not be worried, nay terrified, about the prospect of waste being dumped so close to his or her home.

Next Section

IndexHome Page