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Mr. Rammell: I do not believe that such attempts have been blocked by the Government. The labelling of agricultural produce is within the competence of the European Union, and we must get support to achieve those changes. That is what the Government are arguing for, and what we should all try to achieve.
I shall comment on some of the alternative strategies and tactics proposed by the Conservative party to support the farming industry. We heard the hon. Member for Ludlow (Mr. Gill) advocating what might be described as the unilateralist option--for example, that we should go for a ban on imports because we are worried about what the EU is doing through the CAP, that we should adopt unilateral action on food labelling, and that we should introduce state aids that are illegal under EU law.
Whether that is right or wrong in principle, it does not work. We need only think back to the beef ban that the previous Conservative Government initiated at the height of the BSE crisis to see that such measures do not work. The beef war was initiated in a fervour of enthusiasm, and lasted for 31 days. Even the previous Conservative Government, divided to the core as they were on the subject of Europe, realised that that is not how results are achieved in the EU or anywhere else.
The further problem with arguing for unilateralist solutions is that we have more to lose than other countries, with £10 billion-worth of British food and drink exports supporting British jobs and British communities. All that would be put at risk.
I turn to the relationship between Britain's attitude to the single currency and to the CAP. I support the Government's position. They are in favour of British membership of the single currency in principle, and have set out five realistic and sensible economic criteria to be met. Once those have been met, the Government will recommend to the British people in a referendum that we should join. However, I know in my bones that some of the problems that farming is facing, and that British manufacturing is also facing, are caused by an overvalued pound. Farmers and manufacturers recognise that.
Were we to adopt the Opposition's head-in-the-sand approach and argue that we should stay out of the single currency indefinitely, regardless of the economic circumstances or the possible economic benefits, we would be promising British farming and manufacturing industry a permanent overvaluation of our currency, causing us major problems in competitiveness, which would have a direct impact on jobs and communities.
When I discuss these issues with farmers in my constituency, they understand that. Farmers' views on the single currency are far more positive than those in the country as a whole. Because of farmers' experience of the consequences of the argument that we should stay permanently out of the single currency, I believe that the
Let me comment on a couple of points raised by Opposition Members. The hon. Member for West Tyrone (Mr. Thompson) presented the familiar argument--I have heard it here before--that there is a determination to head towards the establishment of a united Europe, in which we will lose all sovereignty. The hon. Gentleman nods, confirming what I have said.
Having talked to politicians and civil servants throughout the European Union, and having read every available document on the subject, I see nothing like majority support for such a future for the European Union. I see nothing like majority support for total qualified majority voting, tax harmonisation or any of the other evil spectres raised by Opposition Members.
The hon. Gentleman contrasted the support provided for farmers in the Republic of Ireland with that provided for those in the north of Ireland. Clearly, that will result partly from the response to different levels of economic growth. However, I also think that other countries have been more successful than Britain in securing what they need for their people through the European Union, partly because they have been more actively engaged in the process over the past 20 to 25 years. They have participated more fully, and have argued more effectively in fighting their corner.
I respect the passion and conviction shown by the hon. Member for Ludlow. I disagree entirely with his analysis, but I genuinely believe that someone who did what he did during the last years of the Conservative Government must sincerely believe what he is saying. As I have said, however, I disagree with his analysis. He suggested that the problem of farming in Britain and the problem of the common agricultural policy were really problems of sovereignty. According to him, if we were not in the European Union and were not partners in the common agricultural policy, we would not have these difficulties.
I reject that completely. If we were outside Europe--if we were outside the common agricultural policy and the European Union--we would still face the problem of world over-supply. We would still face the problem of an overvaluation of the British pound. We would still be dealing with the legacies of BSE. The suggestion that if we depart from the CAP and leave the European Union all the problems of agriculture will suddenly be resolved is at best fool's gold, and at worst gives farming communities hope that is not justified.
When the hon. Member for Ludlow was talking about reform of the CAP, I was astonished by a comment made, from a sedentary position, by the hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Mr. Hayes). I am sorry to mention this now, because--although I did not realise it until just now--the hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings is no longer present. I thought that I heard the hon. Gentleman, who is a vice-chair of the Conservative party, say, "That is the Vichy argument". The ill judged use of that language of war shows me more than anything how far the Conservative party has moved from the mainstream on these issues, and it will have to face up to that one day.
I support the Government's aims, which the National Farmers Union recognise as being in the best interests of diversifying our farming communities and providing the realistic and longer-term support that farmers need.
Mr. Tony Baldry (Banbury): I agree with the hon. Member for Harlow (Mr. Rammell) that it is disappointing that more Members have not taken part in the debate. I see that my hon. Friend the Member for Ludlow (Mr. Gill) is disappearing; I am going to mention him, and I do not wish to do him the discourtesy of mentioning him when he has no opportunity to respond. As he is keen to leave, I shall make my point to him now and comment on the speech of the hon. Member for Harlow later.
I was grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way during his powerful speech, in which he argued for the repatriation of agriculture and fisheries policy from the EU to the United Kingdom. As he knows, we could do that only if we left the EU. He hopes that that will be Conservative party policy by the next general election. What will he and those of my hon. Friends who support his view do if, as I suspect, that does not become party policy? Will they support our manifesto, notwithstanding the fact that repatriation is not part of our policy, or will they walk away from our party? It would be interesting to hear the views of those of my right hon. and hon. Friends who agree with my hon. Friend, otherwise the electorate are likely to be confused about the Conservative party's stance on that crucial issue.
Mr. Desmond Swayne (New Forest, West): My hon. Friend takes the argument a little too far. The Government have tried for many months to achieve substantial reform of the CAP. They have failed to do so, but that does not mean that that policy was wrong. Equally, those of us who advocate that British farming interests would be best served by a withdrawal from the CAP would naturally pursue that as a policy objective. The fact that that objective might not be achieved does not undermine its validity.
Mr. Baldry: My hon. Friend must not delude himself. My hon. Friend the Member for Ludlow used the word "repatriation." One cannot have it all ways. It is intellectually honest to argue for repatriation--there is no reason why one should not do so--but one must recognise the consequences. One cannot argue for repatriating agriculture and fisheries policy without recognising that that would effectively mean withdrawal from the CAP and the common fisheries policy, and that is achievable only by withdrawal from the EU. Everyone understands what the argument is code for--we are not children. My hon. Friends have urged that that policy should be part of the manifesto at the next general election. Will they follow our manifesto regardless of whether that policy is part of it or will they walk away from the party? That is a simple question.