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4.36 pm

Mr. Christopher Gill (Ludlow): It is a great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for West Tyrone (Mr. Thompson). I agree with much of what he said.

I make no apology for the fact that my remarks are not the received wisdom. I speak from the perspective of someone who has spent a lifetime in the meat and livestock industry, earning a living on both sides of the farm gate, both as a practical butcher and as a practical farmer. At the conclusion of my speech, I shall pose two straightforward and fundamental questions--one to the Government and one to my hon. Friends on the Opposition Front Bench.

Not surprisingly, the debate so far has concentrated on the detail and the mechanics of the CAP. I want to focus on the principles that are at stake. I trust that hon. Members on both Front Benches will do me the courtesy of responding to my questions to show that, at least, they recognise the importance of a comprehensive debate on such important matters, rather than simply going through the motions.

In a recent bulletin, Lloyds TSB Scotland stated:

I agree. However, what can we, as parliamentarians, do about that regrettable situation? The truthful answer is, "Not much".

Speaking at the annual general meeting of the Farmers Union of Wales, its president, Bob Parry set out an eight-point action plan, which included the demand for

What a wonderful aspiration--but what is the reality? It is that there can be no Welsh solutions to Welsh problems, any more than there can be English solutions to English problems.

Under the CAP, virtually the only solutions permitted are European ones, decided on by the EU, collectively, in Brussels. Let us consider, for example, the pig industry--of which I have some experience and in which I declare an interest. That industry would like a British solution to its uniquely British problems. It would like, for example, to spend the £26 million aid package announced in March primarily on restructuring among producers. However, EU regulations dictate that the funds available should first be spent on an outgoers scheme. Given the dramatic reduction that has already occurred in the national pig herd, that is the last thing the British pig industry needs, if, as a nation, we are to avoid becoming ever more reliant on imports.

Right hon. and hon. Members, who have campaigned on behalf of their pig farmer constituents for the past two years will have experienced the frustration of finding every avenue that they explored blocked by the decrees of the collective in Brussels. The plain fact of the matter is that neither the Government nor Parliament can make the decisions so desperately necessary to salvage what is left of the British fishing industry and the British agriculture industry. The authority to make those

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decisions is no longer ours. Under the terms of the European treaties, decisions have to be made by the collective in Brussels.

Let us take but one example. The Government recently set up the meat industry red tape working group--the Pooley committee--to investigate the problems of the abattoir sector, in particular, and to report back. The Pooley report followed and, generally speaking, the Government agreed with it and accepted most of its 35 recommendations. However, in the case of two of the most important recommendations--precisely those on vets that led to the peremptory closure of the Mead Webber sheep abattoir in Herefordshire two weeks ago--they could do nothing. That was not because the Government were unwilling or disagreed with the recommendations or because they would cost a lot of money, but simply because the Government would first need to obtain EU approval. Shakespeare had a line for it:

Members of the House--past and present--bear the guilt and the shame of having given away the powers by which we might otherwise have been able to help our fellow countrymen. In so doing, they gave away that which was not theirs to give away in the first place--the sovereign right of the British people to be governed by their own laws made in their own Parliament by their own people.

Instead, we are now run by a collective. How else can one describe a regime in which the centre tells the fishermen what they may catch, in what quantities, in which sea areas, where they may land their catches and, effectively, at what price? That is all done in the name of conservation, but not a single fisherman at sea today does not have to throw back dead into the sea more fish than he lands.

In the Russian republics, collectivisation of agriculture failed; in North Korea, to this day, people starve because of the failure of agricultural collectivisation that is distinguished from the EU model only in so much as, whereas the Korean model has brought about shortages, the European model has created surpluses. At what cost?

Mr. Baldry: Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Gill: No, I will not give way.

The European model has been carried out at the cost of greater demands on the taxpayer, higher prices to the consumer and a burden of bureaucracy that is beyond belief to those who recall farming as it was before the common agricultural policy.

Mr. Baldry: Will my hon. Friend do me the courtesy of giving way?

Mr. Gill: No, I will not give way.

Last November, in early-day motion 62, I called on the Government

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According to a report in the Farmers Guardian on 21 April

So far, so good. However, the report adds:

What do Governments--and individual politicians who should know better--say about all those unsatisfactory matters?

Mr. Baldry: If my hon. Friend will give way, I shall tell him.

Mr. Gill: I shall give way to a former Agriculture Minister.

Mr. Baldry: I am very grateful to my hon. Friend for doing me the courtesy of giving way. Is his powerful argument advocating that we should leave the common agricultural policy or that we should leave the European Union altogether? The measures that he is proposing are clearly contrary to Community law, so the logic of his argument must be either that we leave the common agricultural policy or the European Union altogether. Which is it?

Mr. Gill: The short answer is that I advocate repatriation of control over agricultural policy to this country and to this Parliament, so that the people who understand British agriculture, are responsible for British agriculture and have to face their constituents who are involved in British agriculture can give satisfaction in a way that we simply cannot do under the present regime.

I am sure that my hon. Friend will forgive me for being so blunt, but people like him say that we must reform the common agricultural policy. The question for them is how they would do that. Do they not recall how Agenda 2000 was emasculated by the vote of the French; do they not understand that, unless there is unanimity, the fundamentals of the CAP cannot be changed; and do they not understand that, if reform is achieved by qualified majority voting, it is as likely as not that the matter will be challenged in the European Court by countries alleging discrimination and will be struck down?

Being nice to the Germans, the French, the Italians or the Spaniards is not the answer. The point is that what we can do and how we can do it are all prescribed in the treaties. There is no latitude or tolerance; there is only the law.

My question to the Government is this: by what means or methods will they bring about any fundamental or meaningful reform? Let me remind the House that a collective can, by definition, only act in the interests of the collective. It self-evidently cannot act in the separate interests of its component parts. The notion that the

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agricultural collective can deliver what is best for Britain is a delusion. Equally, it is absurd to believe that it can deliver what is best for the agriculture industry of any other individual member state. If I am wrong, those on one or other Front Bench will have an opportunity at the end of the debate to tell me why.

My second question is addressed to those on the Conservative Front Bench. They will know that my credentials as a Conservative are impeccable. I have been a Conservative all my life; I was born into a Conservative family and I am a Conservative by conviction and consistently so. I am opposed to big government and state interference; I believe in individual freedom, low taxes and free markets. I am not a collectivist; I reject the whole concept of collectivism.

The question for my hon. Friends on the Front Bench is why our party, the British Conservative party, continues to support a policy, reformed or unreformed--it makes no difference--that owes more to communism than to conservatism. Members of the shadow Cabinet should not be surprised at this question; they have heard it before and they will not be surprised to hear me say that they will hear it again unless they recognise that collectivism and conservatism are mutually exclusive. One is the antithesis of the other. My party will not, and cannot, prosper until it comes to terms with that ineluctable truth.

Only politicians, by dint of that collectivist policy, could have brought about a situation in which every sector of British agriculture is depressed. It does not matter how the British farmer or fisherman votes, as he gets the same whether he votes Labour, Liberal Democrat, Plaid Cymru, Conservative or Scottish National party. He gets the common agricultural policy, which is effectively decided by people whom he does not elect and cannot hold to account. However he votes, he gets what is decided for him by the collective.

That cannot be right. As a Conservative, I say categorically that it is not right. Conservatives believe in choice, diversity and--not least--democracy. At the next general election, I trust that we as a party will put that before the British people, especially those working in our once-great farming and fishing industries, for whom there is currently no light at the end of a very long and very dark tunnel.

The motion that we are considering speaks of negotiating

That is platitudinous nonsense. The CAP has failed on every count and has done so comprehensively. It has failed producers, consumers, taxpayers and the nation. The crisis in agriculture is not new: it has not just appeared from nowhere. The current state of affairs has been building for the past 28 years, ever since we joined the benighted CAP. For half that time, and throughout my membership of the House, I have consistently warned that it would all end in tears, and so it has.

I shall end with a quotation from Pericles for my colleagues:

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