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Last year, £264 million of agri-monetary compensation was available. This year, it is down to £110 million, despite the continuing weakness of the euro and the fact that farm incomes are under intense pressure.
The Minister touched on the measures for the pig sector. Pig farmers deserve more details, and I hope that we will not have to wait very much longer for a clear statement of how much of the promised £26 million will be paid to outgoers and how much to ongoers. I hope that the conditions under which the ongoers will receive the money will also be made clear and that we will be told whether the support is likely to be continued in subsequent years.
After two years in which the British sow herd has declined substantially, do the Government think that they have done enough to ensure the survival of what remains of our pig farming industry? Does the Minister accept the view of the chairman of the National Pig Association, who wrote to me on 13 April:
I hope that the Minister will soon be able to tell the House and, more particularly, the industry, when he expects to receive approval for the proposal. He spoke about cutting red tape, and we welcome the efforts that have been made by the various review bodies, but we remain concerned about the tangible achievements that have been recorded so far.
We remain concerned about the damage that bureaucratic intervention can cause. The recent enforced closure of the Meade Webber slaughterhouse in Herefordshire is yet another example. My hon. Friend the Member for South-East Cambridgeshire will touch on that later.
Whatever the Government's rhetoric about cutting burdens on business, their actions too often belie their words. The imposition of the climate change levy, even in the amended form announced in the Budget, will hit the horticulture sector. The Countryside and Rights of Way Bill is still causing great anxiety and potential problems in the countryside. The threats are not confined to the United Kingdom. The European waste incineration directive is another substantial burden waiting to fall on the industry.
Mr. David Heath: I am a little surprised that neither the hon. Gentleman nor the Minister has mentioned the peculiarly precarious position of tenant farmers and the overwhelming need for a retirement package to enable people to leave the industry with dignity.
Mr. Yeo: I am aware of the fact that the Liberal Democrat amendment refers specifically to the retirement package. I have omitted to mention it only in the interests of time, and my hon. Friend the Member for South-East Cambridgeshire will deal with it in his winding-up speech.
In the autumn, Britain was again humiliated when France refused to allow British beef to be exported. As that crisis deepened, the Minister refused even to talk to his French counterpart, saying that there would be no point in doing so. At the Anglo-French summit at the end
Mr. Nick Brown: That is no longer my ministerial responsibility. With the setting up of the Food Standards Agency, responsibility passes to the Secretary of State for Health. Even if the hon. Gentleman was on to a good point--which he is not--he would be making it to the wrong Minister.
Mr. Yeo: I am sure that British farmers will have noted the Minister's response: that it is not a matter of concern to the British Agriculture Minister if the illegal practices of farmers in other countries, whose businesses compete directly with those of farmers in Britain, continue unchecked. His only answer is, "Oh, it's not my responsibility."
Had a British farmer been found feeding his or her livestock with illegal materials, as French ones were last autumn--when the Minister was responsible--does anyone believe that the Minister would have told Parliament that nothing could or should be done? Of course not. A French farmer behaving in that way can rely on good old Labour Ministers. Never mind the damage to Britain's farmers or the risks to British consumers, under this Labour Government there is not a word of criticism, a whisper of complaint or a moment of argument over any action or proposal, however damaging, from a foreign Government or a European institution.
The Government's reluctance to act to reduce the flow of substandard food into Britain is now notorious. Only yesterday, the National Farmers Union revealed a 40 per cent. rise in poultry imports from Thailand, a country where practices are known, in some cases, to fall far below the standards that are required here for health reasons.
Agriculture and the countryside, and consumers, now need a Minister and a Government who are prepared to defend their cause: to defend it in Whitehall, when more taxes and red tape are being imposed on them; against the Treasury, when support levels are being cut; and in Europe, when they are under attack from other Governments who recognise the importance of rural communities.
In 50 minutes today, the Minister gave no clue about Labour's long-term view of agriculture. It is no wonder that the industry is suffering from a shortage of young people coming into it. The Liberal Democrat amendment refers to the retirement scheme, and we are sympathetic to those concerns, with which my hon. Friend the Member for South-East Cambridgeshire will deal. However, much more than a retirement scheme is needed to save British agriculture. It needs a Government committed to the industry's survival, who have a vision of the countryside as something more than a giant theme park--a rural version of the millennium dome.
The Conservative party believes in a living and working countryside, where a prosperous agricultural industry is the foundation of a thriving rural economy; where viable and enlightened farmers are in the front line of looking after the rural environment and have the task of producing high-quality food to meet a substantial proportion of the needs of British consumers; and where rural communities can feel hope, not despair. I commend our amendment to the House.