Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Farm Businesses

7. Mr. Brian White (Milton Keynes, North-East): What action he is taking to assist in the development of economically viable farm businesses. [103778]

13 Jan 2000 : Column 416

The Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. Nick Brown): As I announced in the House on 7 December 1999, I am redirecting some farming support and the Government are providing new funding to provide more help for farmers to modernise, to diversify and to farm in a more environmentally beneficial way. I am also providing support for improved marketing. I am studying the reports of the three working groups that I set up to review regulatory burdens.

Mr. White: My right hon. Friend will be aware that the rural development plan--and, in particular, the extra money that he has secured from the Treasury--has been widely welcomed. Does he accept that the knee-jerk reaction of the Opposition in calling for more subsidies and fewer taxes is not the way forward? Will he require, under the forthcoming rural White Paper, organisations such as regional development agencies, planning authorities and so on to pay more heed to farmers' voices?

Mr. Brown: My hon. Friend is absolutely right--the way forward for British agriculture is to get closer to the marketplace. It should consider the demand side rather than try to supplement the supply side of the common agricultural policy.

Mr. Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy): The right hon. Gentleman will know that I, like many Members, have hundreds of upland farmers in my constituency whose businesses are no longer viable. What positive advice and assistance can he give such farmers in the midst of this crisis? If he has none, is not it time for him to step aside and make way for a Minister who will take the crisis seriously?

Mr. Brown: In view of the substantial amount of support that I have announced since I became the Minister responsible for those who farm less-favoured areas, the hon. Gentleman's remarks are unfair and unworthy. The truth is that there is a great deal in the rural development plan for hill farmers. They should proportionately be the beneficiaries of what has been announced.

Mr. David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire): The rural development plan is most welcome in country areas, such as those that I and my colleagues represent. Is my right hon. Friend optimistic that it will herald the end of the annual emergency aid cycle of packages to farmers and replace that with sustainable support that will produce a viable and profitable method of agriculture?

Mr. Brown: It is my objective to get away from emergency aid packages that consider the supply side--they have been the only way of providing immediate assistance to the sector--and to move towards sustainable policies that will give the industry support in a way that is decoupled from production and less vulnerable to the short-term effects of the marketplace. That is the thinking behind the rural development measure.

Mr. James Paice (South-East Cambridgeshire): I want to return to consideration of the pig industry, which is one of the least economically viable of all agricultural industries. Twice in his earlier comments, the Minister said that the BSE controls on pigs were to do with public protection and public safety. Those were his words, and

13 Jan 2000 : Column 417

I think that that will be proven in Hansard. Therefore, will he explain the difference between a British pig farmer who, for public safety, suffers innocently from those BSE controls but receives no support from the European Union or the Government, and a Belgian pig farmer who suffered equally innocently from the dioxin controls but received compensation from the EU?

Rather than blaming the Opposition for what we did or did not do in government, will the Minister turn his concern into action, go to the Commission--not send an official--and make the case that British pig farmers should be compensated for those public safety controls?

Mr. Brown: If the hon. Gentleman believes so passionately in the case that he has just put, why did not his Government do precisely that when the regulations were introduced? [Interruption.] It is no good Opposition Members shouting that that is not the question--it is precisely the question that the Commission would ask me if we were to make such a request. In speaking on behalf of the Conservative party, the hon. Member for South Suffolk (Mr. Yeo) said that it viewed such an intervention as economic aid. That would rule out the Commission giving permission for it.

Common Fisheries Policy

8. Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East): What progress he has made in securing the support of his European counterparts for the reform of the common fisheries policy. [103780]

9. Mr. Michael Jabez Foster (Hastings and Rye): What steps he is taking to reform the common fisheries policy. [103781]

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. Elliot Morley): The Government will continue to take every opportunity to secure improvements to the common fisheries policy, to make it a more effective instrument for conserving fish stocks while securing the best possible conditions for the UK industry.

Given the recent tragic news, I am sure that the whole House will join me when I express my sincere condolences to the family and friends of the crew of the Solway Harvester, which was recently lost in the Irish sea.

Dr. Lewis: I am sure that the whole House endorses what the Minister has just said about the tragedy of the Solway Harvester.

In the Minister's negotiations with his European colleagues about the common fisheries policy, the Government do not seem to have had much success on the issue of landing sizes, for which restrictions on 11 categories of fish have recently been removed. Fish in eight of those categories have a good chance of survival if they are returned to the sea. Will not the removal of restrictions have a seriously damaging effect on future fish stocks?

Mr. Morley: Minimum landing sizes are an important issue, but they must be associated with technical conservation measures. The hon. Gentleman is quite wrong--we reversed the minimum landing size reduction

13 Jan 2000 : Column 418

on plaice, for example, and we negotiated with other European countries to make it possible to do that unilaterally if the Commission did not agree.

Mr. Foster: I congratulate my hon. Friend on the efforts that he made at the Fisheries Council because he did an extremely good job in a difficult situation. Fishermen in Hastings and Rye are in any case natural conservationists and they acknowledge and accept the need for some reductions. How will my hon. Friend make sure that other nation states are equally effective in enforcing the new provisions?

Mr. Morley: When I met fishermen from my hon. Friend's constituency they made several important points about conservation, which influenced the recent consultation on the inshore sector, and which we have extended to the whole UK sector. To ensure that there is equal enforcement, the new control measures introduced by the European Union will, for the first time, ensure that the same standards of enforcement and control are applied across all member states, and there is an element of independent inspection by the Commission itself to make sure that that is the case.

Several hon. Members rose--

Madam Speaker: Order. It is very disappointing that in three quarters of an hour we have reached only eight questions. I am sure that many Back Benchers as well as Front Benchers are very disappointed, too. I am sorry that I have not been able to call many of the hon. Members who have been rising, wanting to speak on most of the issues. I hope that we can make better progress, not only at Agriculture questions, but at all questions, and that questions as well as answers are not as long as they are now tending to be.


The Solicitor-General was asked--

Rights of Access

27. Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East): If he will make a statement on rights of access to prosecuting lawyers by victims of crime. [103802R]

The Solicitor-General (Mr. Ross Cranston): There are professional rules of conduct that govern how much communication a prosecution advocate can have with a witness in a criminal case. In some circumstances, however, direct contact between the victim and the prosecutor is both important and necessary either before or after the trial. The Crown Prosecution Service and the Law Officers are committed to ensuring that direct contact does take place in appropriate circumstances.

Dr. Lewis: I declare an interest because I was a witness in a case in which the conditions were skewed greatly toward the defendant because he had direct access to his lawyers, whereas I, as the alleged victim, had little or no access to the lawyers bringing the prosecution case. If the Solicitor-General is saying that he is satisfied with the present situation, I must tell him that many victims of

13 Jan 2000 : Column 419

crime are not. Will he consider more closely ensuring access by victims of crime to the lawyers who are supposed to be bringing the prosecution, with a view to evening up that unjust imbalance?

The Solicitor-General: The House will know that we take very seriously the position of victims, and we are considering a range of measures to improve that. There has been extensive discussion with the hon. Gentleman, who was the subject of untrue and scurrilous allegations. A prosecution was undertaken, but unfortunately that failed for technical reasons on appeal. I explained in my answer, and it has been explained to the hon. Gentleman, that the prosecutor is acting not for the victim, but in the public interest. There has to be some access to those lawyers, but the situation is not the same as with defence counsel, who represent a particular person.

Mr. David Kidney (Stafford): The hon. Member for New Forest, East (Dr. Lewis) has a good point. One way to open a channel of communication with victims would be through the use of victim impact statements. If we could avoid the excesses of the American system of using statements, they would be a valuable tool to enable the courts and prosecutors to understand the victims' point of view and the effect of the crime on them. Are any discussions taking place to try to introduce a reasonable system for using victim impact statements in British courts?

The Solicitor-General: The Home Office is considering a range of measures, including victim impact statements. There has been a pilot project and a report was produced shortly before Christmas. There are difficulties, but they are not insuperable. The Home Office is considering those and other measures.

Next Section

IndexHome Page