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Sir Nicholas Lyell (North-East Bedfordshire): Every word that my hon. Friend has said about hard-pressed farmers, especially pig producers, applies to the many pig producers whom I represent. I hope that we shall find a way of giving his Bill a fair wind.

Mr. O'Brien: I thank my right hon. and learned Friend. I believe that the issues raised in my Bill affect constituents and farming communities up and down the land, and that the Bill has a general application. It was clear to me that the feeling in Eddisbury typified the mood in much of the country, and I hope that we can make progress with the Bill so that we can help farmers and consumers.

We should consider the interests of farmers in conjunction with the powerful mistrust and lack of confidence that has developed among consumers in recent years. Food labelling has been shown to be misleading. There have been well-publicised instances of products that appear from the label to be British, but in fact come from outside the country. There is an overwhelming need to secure simple, clear, honest labelling. The Bill's purpose is to ensure that labels and marks relating to the country of origin and the standards of production of food presented for sale enable consumers to make an informed decision about which food they want to purchase.

Mr. Tim Collins (Westmorland and Lonsdale): Does my hon. Friend agree with me, and with farmers throughout south Cumbria, that perhaps the most scandalous example of the misrepresentation to which he refers is the application of a Union jack to products that have merely been packaged in this country, and did not originate here? Would his Bill not help to correct that damaging misrepresentation?

Mr. O'Brien: As my hon. Friend knows, I share his deep affection for south Cumbria, and any measure that helps farmers there--and, of course, those in south-west Cheshire--has my full support. My hon. Friend may well find that the example he has given is referred to a few paragraphs later in my speech.

The Bill meets the demands of my constituents and the needs of consumers and food producers throughout the country. Therefore, my decision to introduce it, in effect, made itself. It was for me a simple, clear and honest choice. The cause is not only worthy, but is a real opportunity to be effective in tackling an issue of the utmost seriousness to the people of this country, whom we all represent in this House.

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Although the crisis in the farming industry was a key factor in my decision to introduce the Bill, it is intended not to be, nor to form part of, a nationalistic, anti-competitive buy-British campaign, but rather to give the force of law to simple, clear and honest food labelling, so that consumers have the facts that they need to enable them to make an informed choice. If that information results in consumers choosing to buy British-originated and produced food, for whatever reasons, all well and good.

Since announcing my decision, I have been genuinely taken aback at the scale and warmth of support that I have received for the Bill. It carries the hopes of farmers, producers and consumers up and down the land. That support starts in the House, and I am grateful for the cross-party support that I have received in launching it. It is truly an all-party measure. If it reaches the statute book, it will be a credit to the House and, I believe sincerely, to the Government--who will, I fervently hope, even at this eleventh hour support it and allow it to make progress.

Mr. Oliver Letwin (West Dorset): Has my hon. Friend had any communication from the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food about the Bill? Might one not have expected that he would immediately have been called in, congratulated and helped? Has he encountered that attitude?

Mr. O'Brien: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that intervention. As it happens, I did not receive such an invitation. There has been some contact between the National Farmers Union and MAFF in relation to the Bill. I have had the benefit of being briefed on that contact, but at a personal level the answer is no.

I pay tribute to the sponsors of the Bill, who traverse the political spectrum. As well as the support of my hon. Friends the Members for Hexham (Mr. Atkinson), for Mid-Dorset and North Poole (Mr. Fraser), for North Wiltshire (Mr. Gray)--who I see is in his place--for South Holland and The Deepings (Mr. Hayes), for Epping Forest (Mrs. Laing), for North Shropshire (Mr. Paterson)--who represents my neighbouring constituency and with whom I share the largest milk field in Europe--for North Norfolk (Mr. Prior) and for Uxbridge (Mr. Randall), I have the support of Members from the Government Benches: the hon. Members for Glasgow, Pollok (Mr. Davidson) and for Heywood and Middleton (Mr. Dobbin). I am delighted to have the support, too, of the Liberal Democrats in the form of the hon. Member for Hazel Grove (Mr. Stunell), who I am pleased to see in his place.

Amplifying the support for the Bill, I refer the House to early-day motion 445, which is in my name, that of my hon. Friend the Member for South Suffolk (Mr. Yeo), the shadow Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food--I am most grateful to see him here--his shadow agricultural team colleague, my hon. Friend the Member for South-East Cambridgeshire (Mr. Paice), and, as of this morning, 60 other right hon. and hon. Members from the Conservative, Liberal Democrat, Ulster Unionist and, let me emphasise, Labour Benches.

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The early-day motion states:

Mr. Paul Tyler (North Cornwall): I, too, wish to express strong support for the Bill. I hope that there will be rapid progress today, not least because it might give an opportunity for my Bill later. In relation to simple, straightforward and non-confusing labelling, may I draw the hon. Gentleman's attention to the importance of organic food? A huge proportion of organic food in this country is imported: three quarters, approximately. The consumer is not aware of that, but it is relevant to his Bill. I hope that, together, we can make progress in both directions.

Mr. O'Brien: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. Although many points need to be made on the issue, I shall try to keep my remarks to their absolute minimum. However, I hope that with the full consensus on the issue that I fervently hope will emerge in this debate, his Bill will soon be considered. If we can establish the principles to ensure simple, clear, honest and not misleading labelling, by passing my Bill the hon. Gentleman's concerns on organic foods--and concerns on various issues on which I have received correspondence from all sorts of interested groups--may be dealt with more effectively. However, addressing all those issues will require a much wider and more detailed debate.

Early-day motion 445 asked the House to implement the Prime Minister's promise. I tabled it on Tuesday. On Wednesday, however, the Government tabled a negative amendment to block my early-day motion. It was signed only by Labour Members. I am not sure whether Whips' narcs is an unparliamentary expression--I see that my own Whip nearly took the words out of my mouth--so I shall not use it

Nevertheless, intriguingly and surprisingly, on the same day--Wednesday--as signing that negative, anti-British-consumer, anti-British-farmer amendment, the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman)--who is Chairman of the Education and Employment Committee, of which I am privileged to be a member--signed the all-party early-day motion 209. That early-day motion was signed also by the hon. Members for Amber Valley (Judy Mallaber) and for Erewash (Liz Blackman), both of whom also signed the negative amendment to my early-day motion.

Early-day motion 209, on stall and tether-produced pigmeat, states:

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    sow stalls and tethers; believes that the marketing premium is dissipated in the absence of mandatory labelling as to production method; believes that consumers are being misled by the absence of mandatory labelling of production method on pigmeat products; calls on United Kingdom supermarkets, caterers and public procurement agencies to support the United Kingdom's newly-raised sow welfare standards by selling or using only stall and tether-free pigmeat; and calls on Her Majesty's Government to introduce legislation similar to that recently enacted in Switzerland requiring meat produced by methods which would be illegal in the United Kingdom to be labelled as such.]

The final words of the motion specifically state that the House

    believes that consumers are being misled by the absence of mandatory labelling of production method on pigmeat products; and calls on Her Majesty's Government to introduce legislation similar to that recently enacted in Switzerland--

which is outside the European Union, of course--

    requiring meat produced by methods which would be illegal in the United Kingdom to be labelled as such.

Even more intriguingly, the hon. Member for Kettering (Mr. Sawford) not only was one of the first six signatories to Wednesday's negative amendment to my early-day motion 445, but, on the same day, signed the all-party early-day motion 62. Only yesterday, the hon. Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Etherington)--who was an early signatory to early-day motion 62--signed the negative amendment to early-day motion 445. Early-day motion 62 calls for mandatory country of origin labelling across the European Union. Oh dear, what a tangled web those Whips weave.

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