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The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. Elliot Morley): A Bill to ban fur farming in England and Wales was introduced on 22 November. I understand that the Scottish Executive will be introducing a separate Bill to extend the ban to Scotland.
Maria Eagle: I thank the Minister for the part that he has undoubtedly played in persuading the Government to take up my private Member's Bill from the previous Session, which was unfortunately blocked on Report. Does he think that the fur farmers now also support the ban, although they did not at the beginning of the last
Mr. Morley: I pay tribute to my hon. Friend's work in promoting her private Member's Bill. It was through that promotion that we had negotiations with the NFU and the Fur Breeders Association. The Bill that we are promoting is an enabling Bill, which will make provision for compensation. We have had a letter from the Fur Breeders Association which makes it clear that it does not want to be kept in limbo and, if the measure makes provision for compensation, it would like to see that progress.
Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley): There is a mink fur farmer in my constituency, so I am interested in what the hon. Member for Liverpool, Garston (Maria Eagle) said because I am keen that there should be full and proper compensation for my constituent. Can the Minister give an assurance that, if compensation is not deemed sufficient, an independent committee or arbitration system will be established so that fur farmers can obtain independent clarification on what compensation they deserve?
Mr. Morley: I can give the hon. Gentleman that assurance. There will be two provisions, one for independent arbitration agreed by both sides and, if that is not agreed, a fall-back provision for binding arbitration from the Lands Tribunal.
The Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Ms Joyce Quin): Up to £264 million in agrimonetary compensation will be paid to livestock and arable farmers starting this year, and a further £132 million over the next two years. That is on top of £133 million in such compensation paid to beef and sheep producers in 1997 and 1998.
Mr. Sawford: Hard-pressed farmers in my constituency will welcome any help that my right hon. Friend can give. Although agrimonetary compensation is complex, it represents real money for real farmers. Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is a sad reflection on the previous Government that they did not pay such compensation to farmers when they had the opportunity to do so, and that the Conservative party is no friend of the British farmer?
Ms Quin: I agree strongly with my hon. Friend. Agrimonetary compensation is an important benefit for British agriculture. My right hon. Friend the Minister was successful in persuading our partners of that, and also in ensuring that some of the money would be obligatory and that farmers would benefit directly from it.
Ms Quin: I seldom agree with the hon. Gentleman about any of the points that he makes, especially on European issues. Stability in financial arrangements is tremendously important for agriculture. If we are not in the single currency, it is important to do what the Government have done and ensure that farmers in this country do not lose out, as they would have done had we not introduced the compensation measures that have been effected.
The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. Elliot Morley): The estimated average price of agricultural land sold in England fell by 5 per cent. between 1997 and 1998.
Mr. Williams: I am a bit surprised by that answer. A recent survey by the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors shows that, in the last quarter, land prices increased in England by 6 per cent. and in Wales by 13 per cent. Will my hon. Friend confirm that it is the Government's policy to join the euro when the time is right, and that, when that happens, we will adopt European interest rates, which are currently 3 per cent? That huge fall in interest rates will mean that house and land values are bound to rise. Is it not in the interests of British farmers that we join the euro?
Mr. Morley: My hon. Friend makes an important point on the euro. There is no doubt that joining the euro would bring many benefits to agriculture, through lower interest rates, a stable exchange rate, and especially in respect of agriculture prices and agrimonetary compensation. Those matters will have to be considered carefully. Ultimately, the British public will make the decision in a referendum. The Government are considering the matter on the basis of what is best for our country and our economy. In that respect, farmers are not well served by the Conservative party, which made it clear that it would never go into the euro within an arbitrary five-year period, even if was absolutely clear that it was in the interests of this country and of agriculture to do so.
Mr. Tony Baldry (Banbury): If agriculture prices are increasing, it is nothing to do with farming and everything to do with proposals to build 1.1 million new homes in Oxfordshire and the south-east. Whenever agricultural land becomes available, builders buy up options and drive up the price of farmland. In counties and constituencies such as mine, there is a crazy situation in which farmers are driven out of business through the Government's policies, and any spare fields will be built on, cemented and concreted in the next 20 or so years. That is a disaster for the shire counties. When will the Government wake up to the devastation that they cause to rural England?
Mr. Morley: The hon. Gentleman makes an inaccurate point. Many indicative housing figures were far higher under the previous Conservative Government; they have been scaled down under the Labour Government. Whatever happens to planning policy in future, planning law will apply to farmland. Buying farmland is no guarantee of permission to build on it.
Mr. Peter L. Pike (Burnley): Is it not a fact that the land value of difficult farmland in the hills--and in the Pennines, in constituencies such as mine--has fallen the most? However, that trend was evident under the previous Government, who showed no support at all for farmers of difficult farmland.
Mr. Morley: My hon. Friend, who represents large areas of disadvantaged farmland, is absolutely right. The causes of the changes in the price of farmland are complex, and there are a number of reasons for that. In some parts of the country, the price of farmland is holding and, as my hon. Friend the Member for East Carmarthen and Dinefwr (Mr. Williams) said, it is increasing in some cases. There are different demands, different types of farm and different sorts of land and we have to take those important factors into account in developing a coherent rural approach. That is why we shall be giving them a great deal of thought in the forthcoming rural White Paper.
The Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. Nick Brown): I have spoken and written to the German Health Minister about the German ban. The German Minister has assured me that the German Federal Government are taking the necessary legal steps to lift it, but--because of the necessary constitutional procedures in Germany, including the need for agreement by the Lander--it will not be possible to lift it quickly.
Mr. Brazier: Surely, then, the position is that the House and the British Government can be overruled by European rulings but the German Federal Government can shelter behind the German constitution in allowing the Lander flagrantly to break European law, to the detriment of British farmers. Given that the Government have made much, somehow or other, of their fairly modest efforts with the French, is it not time that they matched that by taking legal action against the Germans?
Mr. Brown: The hon. Gentleman is wrong. This is a matter of European Union law, and the law applies in Germany in exactly the same way as it applies in France and throughout the rest of the EU. The German Federal Government have been completely candid with the United Kingdom Government. They have explained to us how their procedures work and why it will take time to get the ban lifted in Germany. I believe that the German Government are proceeding in good faith in this matter, but they have to deal with regional authorities controlled by parties that are
Charlotte Atkins (Staffordshire, Moorlands): Does my right hon. Friend agree that we shall not be exporting any beef, either to France or to Germany, unless there is consumer confidence in those countries? Is not the best approach to ensure that we explain our BSE safeguards so that the French ban is lifted, with the support of the French and German Governments? Otherwise we might have the ban lifted, but no one will be eating British beef.
Mr. Brown: My hon. Friend is exactly right; that is the approach that the Government are taking. We are explaining the powerful safeguards--which sit around the date-based export scheme--that are in place in this country. We are taking our potential customers into our confidence because we want them to be our customers. We want them to buy our beef.