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Fur Farming (Prohibition) Bill

5. Mr. David Watts (St. Helens, North): What representations he has received concerning the Fur Farming (Prohibition) Bill. [131265]

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. Elliot Morley): On your last Question Time, Madam Speaker, may I associate myself with my right hon. Friend's remarks? We shall miss your shepherding of MAFF questions.

In excess of 3,000 representations have been received about the Bill, all but a few of which have been from members of the public and animal welfare organisations supporting the banning of fur farming.

Mr. Watts: I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. Given the fact that the Bill was included in Labour's manifesto and that it has the overwhelming support of the British people, will he assure me that he will not allow Opposition Members to frustrate the Bill and stop it passing all its stages in the House and the other place?

Mr. Morley: The House passed the Bill without a vote against it. It has had its Second Reading in the other place, and it will, of course, receive proper debate and scrutiny. It is clear that the measure is widely supported in

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this country; and, indeed, given some of the problems in the fur farming sector, it has certain advantages to that sector as well.

Mr. Malcolm Moss (North-East Cambridgeshire): In the light of the recent report of the Lords Select Committee on Delegated Powers and Deregulation, which points up an important human rights implication for the inclusion of income losses in any compensation scheme for fur farmers, what steps is the Minister taking to ensure that the Fur Farming (Prohibition) Bill, which is currently in the other place, guarantees that mink farmers will be compensated for losses of income by the compensation scheme?

Mr. Morley: I am aware of the Scrutiny Committee recommendations in the other place and my colleague, Baroness Hayman, will of course consider that issue carefully. We take the opinions of such Committees seriously. The Bill will be debated in Committee, which is the appropriate place to consider all those aspects.

Farming (Small Business Enterprise)

6. Mr. Kerry Pollard (St. Albans): What measures his Department is taking to promote small business enterprise in the farming industry. [131266]

The Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Ms Joyce Quin): We are promoting small business enterprise in a number of ways through both the action plan for farming and the England rural development plan, including a free farm business advice service open to all farmers, an increase in the budget for the rural development agencies redundant building grant, new expenditure on training, a new rural enterprise scheme and a new processing and marketing grant scheme.

Mr. Pollard: I welcome the Government's decision to provide a free business advice service to any farmer who wants it. What steps has my right hon. Friend taken to ensure that those who have to provide that free service are properly trained and fully aware of all the opportunities available under the England rural development plan?

Ms Quin: We are looking closely at the qualifications and eligibility criteria for those who will administer the scheme, so that they will be in a position to give informed, worthy and worthwhile advice to the farmers who apply for it.

Mr. Patrick McLoughlin (West Derbyshire): What guidance has the Minister's Department issued to national parks on farm diversification?

Ms Quin: National parks, as well as other organisations, have been involved in the discussions on planning issues that are taking place across government. The hon. Gentleman will know that the action plan for farming, which was announced on 30 March, included examination of the importance of ensuring that there were

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as few obstacles to farm diversification as possible. In all parts of the country, there needs to be involvement with that programme. We are determined to take it forward.

Mr. Tim Yeo (South Suffolk): Far from promoting enterprise, the Government's policies in the two years since the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food took up his job have led to an unprecedented collapse in farm incomes, a massive loss of jobs in the countryside, the closure of dozens of slaughterhouses and the destruction of many family farms after generations of hard work. Does the Minister of State agree that only a genuine attack on red tape, the introduction of honesty in labelling and firmer action against substandard imports--the three keynote policies of the Conservative party's fair deal for farmers--will effectively promote enterprise in agriculture?

Ms Quin: I have looked at the Conservative proposals for agriculture. They are in three parts: first, action that the Government are already taking; secondly, action that would be declared illegal and would therefore incur heavy fines in the European Court; and thirdly, vague spending commitments that seem to be at odds with what the Conservative financial spokespeople are offering the electorate.

Pig Industry

7. Mr. Phil Hope (Corby): When he expects to open the pig industry restructuring scheme to applicants. [131268]

The Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Ms Joyce Quin): The outgoers element of the pig industry restructuring scheme will be opened to applicants immediately following European Commission clearance of the scheme. The ongoers element for those who wish to remain in pig production will involve preparing a commercially acceptable business plan. We are pressing the Commission to provide overall clearance as quickly as possible.

Mr. Hope: I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply and for recently meeting farmers--and pig farmers in particular--from my constituency. It was helpful. We are pursuing some of the concerns, but she will be aware that the Tory legacy of BSE has imposed production costs on the pig industry of more than £5 per pig, which has made it far harder for the industry to compete.

The pig industry restructuring scheme has come as welcome news to the pig industry in my constituency. As she said, it is in two parts: the outgoers element and the ongoers element. The key question for my local farmers is how quickly we can get on with it. They want to be assured that when applicants have made their applications for the grant element, those applications will be processed quickly--decisions should be made quickly--so that they can plan their futures. Can she assure me that decisions will be made in all possible haste once the scheme starts?

Ms Quin: I can give my hon. Friend that assurance. I welcome the interest that he has taken in the industry and in putting forward the views of his constituents. We have sought to help the industry in a number of ways. I am glad that, in terms of the pig industry restructuring

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scheme, we are talking not just about the £26 million available this year, but the additional £40 million in the two following years.

We believe that we have sought to help the industry in all possible ways. Indeed, the House might be interested to know that the Ministry won its case in the judicial review that the pig industry initiated against us. We believe that we have acted correctly. We want to help--and believe that we are helping--the industry through the very bad times that it has experienced. We want a successful British pig industry for the future.

Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York): May I say a special thank you to you, Madam Speaker? You have been a brilliant role model for the ladies in the House, and you will be sorely missed.

Given that we have had the results of the judicial review, can the Minister tell us when she thinks pig farmers will know the result of the decisions referred to by the hon. Member for Corby (Mr. Hope)?

Ms Quin: The period concerned is likely to begin at the end of August, which marks the end of the period of consultation and clearance with the European Commission.

Mr. David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire): I shall not take up the House's time by referring to your warm, witty and wise time in the Chair, Madam Speaker.

Although the rise in pigmeat prices from less than 60p a kilogram in September 1998 to more than £1 a kilogram is welcome, there have been extensive losses in the last two years. The National Pig Association estimates that it will take seven years to recover those losses, even given the current price.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the import ban suggested by the Conservative party constitutes an illegal cul-de-sac? Does she also agree that there should be major reform of the European labelling regime, which is not just inadequate but misleading and counter-productive?

Ms Quin: My hon. Friend is right: the suggested ban would be an illegal and, indeed, dangerous cul-de-sac, given that we export pigmeat products and would risk retaliation if we took the Opposition's advice.

My ministerial colleagues have been actively dealing with the labelling issue. As a result of verification work in the Ministry, a number of misleading labels have been withdrawn and replaced by accurate descriptions. We have been active, and I believe that marketing, advertising and the practical help that we have given the pig industry are producing results. I welcome the recent firming of prices to which my hon. Friend referred.

Mr. James Paice (South-East Cambridgeshire): I associate myself with all that has been said about you, Madam Speaker, and about your stewardship in the Chair. I add my thanks.

Rumours abound that the Government might cut and run in October. If they are accurate, we may also be witnessing the last Question Time presided over by the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. Lest that should prove to be the case, I wish the right hon. Gentleman well in his future career.

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As we know, the pig outgoers scheme was the subject of debate between Ministers and the Commission throughout the early part of the year. It was announced at the end of March as part of the action plan. Now, four months on, the scheme has still not been agreed with Europe. No applications have been made, and until and unless the outgoers element is completed there will be no information for those remaining in the industry, and no opportunity for them to obtain any money. Can the Minister tell us when she expects outgoers to receive cheques, and when she expects there to be a scheme involving a sum for which those remaining in the industry can apply, and which will help them to continue?

Ms Quin: I look forward to the Government helping agriculture and, indeed, other industries, both before and after the election, whenever it occurs.

We have been pursuing the matter speedily in Brussels. The hon. Gentleman knows what is involved in the procedures and the consultations. We have also done a great deal of preparatory work to ensure that, when clearance is received, we can start processing the outgoers bids as quickly as possible. We do not intend to be idle during the summer recess.

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