Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Mr. Straw: The right hon. Lady will not be surprised to learn that I have double-checked and sought assurances. I cannot be certain that there is not some glitch elsewhere in the small print, but I am assured that every section of the famous part IV--one bit of which was not brought into force last year--is being brought into force this year. The officials have staked their pensions on that.

Miss Widdecombe: I hope that the Home Secretary has staked his pension on it as well, as he has said that he will take personal responsibility for everything that happens in the Home Office.

In view of that assurance, it only remains for me to regret that, when the Government were in opposition, they did not give us the support that we are rendering them tonight. Nevertheless, we consider it to be overwhelmingly in the interests of the security of Northern Ireland for us to render that support, despite the Government's rather ungenerous approach when they were in opposition.

2.14 am

Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark, North and Bermondsey): Mr. Rowe's report is particularly welcome. It is clear that he has done a thorough job in the past year, as he did before. We thank him for that.

It almost goes without saying that one of the benefits of the renewal process is that it has a reporting structure, so that we have the basis on which we can judge the appropriateness of continuing all the legislation. On the basis of the report and analysis, we, like the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe), her party and the Government, can come to no conclusion other than that the present legislation should continue while Parliament is debating what legislation to put in its place. There are two reasons why it is vital that we do that.

First, as so often in the past quarter century, we are in a delicate period in the history of Northern Ireland. To take away the security that special legislation gives would be unsettling at the moment, when people are calling for a more settled and permanent solution. If the politics can deliver a settled arrangement with the devolved Assembly and the like, that will be all the more reason why it will not be necessary to have the exceptional powers in an Act such as the PTA.

Secondly, some of us have been here since 5 o'clock to debate the Government's proposed legislation to replace the prevention of terrorism legislation. We have

15 Mar 2000 : Column 478

our criticisms. They have been aired, but it would be inappropriate, when the Government have honoured their commitment a year ago to bring a Bill to the House that put legislation in a UK-wide context and that did not require annual renewal, for us then to say that it was right to take away the shield, the safeguard, that the order provides in the interim.

We hope that this will be the last occasion that we have to renew the prevention of terrorism legislation, with its exceptional and, in some ways, unfair powers. Whatever the necessity for anti-terrorism legislation, it would be better if there were a different Act of Parliament, so we hope that it is the last occasion.

Clearly, it would be inappropriate, not just in Northern Ireland but generally, to allow any of our citizens not to have the protection of some legislation, so the choice that we have tonight is stark. Put crudely, it is whether to continue with what we have, which has inadequacies, but which the report shows is working relatively well in providing security; or to have a few months with nothing at all.

We have opted for the first option, but the lesson of the exercise is that it is appropriate not just to have a report regularly to Parliament, but that Parliament should have the opportunity to decide whether and how to renew the legislation. I hope that the practice that we are going through on the PTA will be one that the Government adopt for the Terrorism Bill. At least once a Parliament the provisions should come back to Parliament for consideration on the basis of such a report.

2.18 am

Mr. Kevin McNamara (Hull, North): I do not intend to delay the House long, but it is incumbent on me to reply to the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe) and to congratulate my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary on his action in changing the legislation. We voted against the PTA renewal orders because they contained provisions for internment without trial and for exclusion orders, both of which were contrary to human rights and caused considerable unfairness and unhappiness and considerable problems.

Exclusion orders set up people as targets in the areas in which they lived if they ventured outside their community. Internment without trial was one of the major things that helped to supply recruits to the Provisional IRA, so my right hon. Friend is to be congratulated on introducing an order that does not contain either of those provisions. It is good that he has done so, and that fact should be recorded. I have taken part in as many of these debates as anyone, and I am happy that this will be the last on the old legislation. Like the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes), though, I should have hoped for scrutiny of the renewal of the forthcoming Terrorism Act on the Floor of the House every year.

Question put and agreed to.


15 Mar 2000 : Column 479

Dairy Industry

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.--[Mr. Mike Hall.]

2.20 am

Mr. Tim Collins (Westmorland and Lonsdale): A little over 12 hours ago, I met a number of my constituents who had come to London as part of a national demonstration by dairy farmers about the state of their industry. Members of Parliament from all parties were present during the demonstration, recognising the scale of difficulties facing the industry.

I congratulate those who organised the demonstration, which began with four farmers sitting around a kitchen table in Kendal, in my constituency. They had in mind the idea of trying to create an agricultural analogy to the Jarrow march of the 1930s when there was great despair in certain communities in our country. It is not wrong of us to recognise that some of our agricultural communities face despair, bleakness, lack of hope and fear for the future that parallel the experiences of some communities in the 1930s.

On a personal note, I should say that my parents were dairy farmers. I no longer have a direct family connection with dairy farming, but I take a personal interest in it. While mentioning family links, I welcome the presence of my hon. Friend the Member for Eddisbury (Mr. O'Brien), whose connections with south Cumbria mean that he holds that part of the world as dearly in his heart as I do in mine. I also thank my hon. Friends the Members for Cotswold (Mr. Clifton-Brown) and for Mid- Worcestershire (Mr. Luff) for their presence. Both strongly support the dairy industry.

I can reassure the Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food by saying that I do not intend to make a series of partisan points. I accept, of course, that the problems of the dairy industry did not spring instantly into being on 1 May 1997. Some pre-dated the general election, and we accept that the Government have no magic wand. No one who came to London today to demonstrate believes that the Government have it within their gift simply to solve all the problems of the dairy industry. Nor did any of them seriously question the good will of the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. I welcome the fact that he met some of the demonstrators, including some of my constituents. I applaud his generosity in making his time available.

That said, the Minister of State will recognise that the scale of the problem cannot be understated. The National Farmers Union has provided me with a brief that states, in its very first sentence:

The crisis is not minor or temporary. Nor is it analogous to anything that we have seen for decades. Its scale is without parallel in recent history.

I commend the Select Committee on Agriculture on its second report on the marketing of milk, which was published earlier this year. It provides useful material for the House, and I shall press the Minister on some points that arise from it.

15 Mar 2000 : Column 480

The issues raised by many of the farmers who came to the demonstration today will not be unfamiliar to the Minister, but they bear some repetition. Farmers find it extremely frustrating that they sell milk at sometimes less than half--even no more than a third--of the price of bottled water in some supermarkets. It is impossible for any farmer, however efficient and however much he or she bears down on costs, to break even when the milk price is so low. Farmers feel strongly that they are asked to meet, and succeed in doing so, the highest milk quality standards in Europe. Yet they receive the lowest reward of any farmers in Europe. The United Kingdom is bottom of the European milk price league. On some comparisons, the milk price is lower now than it has ever been. They feel that the issue of agrimonetary compensation needs to be addressed seriously by the Government.

We recognise that it is not an easy issue, and the Minister will know that previous Governments have not found it easy to address it--in some ways, the Government have been more generous than their predecessor on the issue--but she will also recognise that the scale of the difficulties facing the industry are greater than they were under any previous Government. Therefore, I hope that the Minister and her colleagues will be able to give serious consideration to the issue. As she knows, the money has to be claimed by April, or the opportunity to claim it will disappear.

Today, dairy farmers raised with a great deal of passion and feeling the issue of what they regard as the truly absurd Monopolies and Mergers Commission report. That report was crazy, crackpot, damaging, slipshod and quite simply the worst piece of official documentation presented for many a long year. The idea that the fundamental problem affecting the milk market is excessive producer power driving up the milk price is so far at variance with the reality that farmers are having to experience that it beggars belief that anyone could have put it down on paper.

I recognise the fact that the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry did not simply accept that report, but felt the need to reflect on it. However, the outcome has been that we are moving towards a situation in which Milk Marque is breaking itself into three. As the Minister will recognise, the Secretary of State said in his evidence to the Select Committee that that was highly likely to lead to a further fall in the farmgate price of milk, which will only make the problems that we are talking about today even worse. Again, I accept that that is not direct Government responsibility, but that report was extremely damaging and should have been binned, rather than, in some ways, being implemented.

We have to move on to deal with the world as it is, rather than the world as it might have been. I should be interested in anything that the Minister has to say, particularly on a point that the Agriculture Minister himself discussed with my constituents and others today: the possibility of finding some means of bringing together--perhaps in a forum, which, in its report, the Select Committee itself mentioned--all the players in the dairy industry, perhaps with the Government playing an enabling role, so that all the parties sit down and put aside the petty jealousies, back biting and spiteful fighting that has gone on for many years in the industry, and recognise that they have a collective interest. The dairy industry is a £3 billion industry, which is a significant part of the United Kingdom economy. Anything that the Government

15 Mar 2000 : Column 481

can do positively to encourage co-operation and the recognition of common interests would be much welcomed by dairy farmers.

There is the issue of quotas. I do not want to detain the Minister long on that, but she will know that many dairy farmers feel that the deal that was done last year by the Government was not a great one for the United Kingdom. The United Kingdom's quotas were frozen for six years, while Ireland--which produces about four times its consumption requirement--received additional quotas.

Dairy farmers raised another issue and--although there are perhaps only a limited number of spheres in which the Government could provide immediate assistance--they asked me specifically to press the Minister on it: the issue of increasing the price in the over-30-month scheme, and reconsideration of phasing out the calf-processing aid scheme. We know that none of those actions is likely to provide a panacea, but it would be helpful if the Minister could say whether the Government are prepared at least to consider them.

Next Section

IndexHome Page