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The Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. Nick Brown): The final figure will not be known until later this month. However, the amount available is likely to be about £200 million. We have until 30 April to decide. Since 1997, the Government will have paid £629 million in agrimonetary compensation, at a cost of £455 million to the United Kingdom taxpayer.
The message from the farmers whom I met in Alford and Stonehaven last week--confirmed by figures from the Ministry showing a fall in farm incomes--is that they would like an end to at least one element of their uncertainty as soon as possible. Will the Government make a commitment, in principle, to recognise that a mechanism is available to alleviate the currency problems that the farmers face, and that they are willing to access the money involved as soon as possible to alleviate that uncertainty?
Mr. Brown: The Government recognise that such a mechanism is available. We have made extensive use of it, both on the mandatory side--it is worth reminding the House that this Government negotiated the mandatory element of agrimonetary compensation--and on the discretionary side. We have made use of the instrument when times have been very difficult for farmers, particularly in the livestock sector.
Mr. Alan W. Williams (East Carmarthen and Dinefwr): Now that the euro has regained about 10 per cent. of its value against the pound, what effect will that have on the money available in agrimonetary compensation? More generally, does not that rise mean much better support prices and better market prices? Indeed, could not it herald the turnaround in the fortunes of agriculture?
Mr. Simon Thomas (Ceredigion): In the light of the facts that dairy farmers in Wales last year earned as little as £3,000, that further money is available in agrimonetary compensation, which the Minister accepts, and that the figures are historic and reflect the lack of support payments to farmers over the past few years, will he now give farming industries in Wales and throughout the United Kingdom the assurance that the Government will receive every penny possible despite the Fontainebleau agreement, which was negotiated by the Conservatives?
Mr. Brown: The hon. Gentleman is right to refer to the previous Conservative Government's Fontainebleau arrangements because those arrangements put the cost of agrimonetary compensation primarily on the shoulders of the British taxpayer. The issue of further agrimonetary payments is under consideration by the Government and a decision will be made, as it usually is, in--[Interruption.] I cannot tell whether Conservative Members, who are shouting at me, are making the case for membership of the euro or for devaluation of sterling, but it is clearly one of the two. No doubt a Conservative Front Bencher will intervene in a moment to say which.
In answer to the hon. Member for Ceredigion (Mr. Thomas), when we considered the circumstances of the dairy industry for the previous agrimonetary round, we drew down every penny we could in recognition of the difficult circumstances. I know that averages are always held to be unfair, but that decision is worth £900 per dairy farmer.
Mr. Lindsay Hoyle (Chorley): Does my right hon. Friend agree that a typical livestock farmer has benefited by between £1,000 and £1,500 through agrimonetary compensation? Will he consider the fact that an increase in that would benefit farmers who are in need this year and also confirm what the previous Government paid in agrimonetary compensation?
Mr. Brown: The hon. Member for Buckingham is right. The sum paid in agrimonetary compensation under the previous Conservative Government would not pay to heat anything at all, because they did not pay out a penny in agrimonetary compensation--not a single penny. [Interruption.] I do not know how I managed to stir Opposition Front Benchers from their usual lethargy, but, for the sake of the record, the hon. Member for South-East Cambridgeshire (Mr. Paice) is shouting, "Three months, three months!" Before the general election, it would have been possible for the Conservative Government to commit to just under half a billion pounds of agrimonetary compensation, if they had so chosen. They did not commit to a penny.
It is worth reminding those who follow these debates that, although Conservative Members now call for substantial extra public expenditure on agrimonetary compensation, they also call for overall reductions in
The Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Ms Joyce Quin): The Burns report considered that, in the event of a ban on hunting, farmers would lose a large part of the collection service for fallen stock currently offered by hunts. Farmers would then need to use an alternative disposal method, such as the rendering or knackery services or incineration. Proposed European Union rules could also affect the disposal routes available to farmers. We are in close touch with the disposal and farming industries over possible future arrangements.
Mr. Luff: The Minister has, for the second time, honestly admitted that the Government value the service provided by hunts to farmers in connection with fallen stock, but, given the increasing problems in disposing of stock to which she alluded, including on-farm burial and incineration, is not it time for the Government to produce an authoritative figure for the cost that would be imposed on British farmers were hunting with dogs ever to be banned? Will she at least admit that that figure would be substantial?
Ms Quin: The Government commissioned the Burns report precisely to look at those issues, and I commend its findings in that regard. However, the position is uneven across the country, depending partly on the geographical distribution of hunts, and partly on the availability of other services. Given that situation and the fact that there are European Union rules and proposals in the pipeline, it is important, as I said in my answer to the hon. Gentleman, to discuss with farmers and the existing industry how best to move forward.
The Solicitor-General (Mr. Ross Cranston): Early indications are that the Narey reforms, brought about through the Crime and Disorder Act 1998, are having a substantial effect on reducing delay and improving efficiency. They have been implemented in two stages. The first stage, which was introduced in November 1999, led to all defendants appearing before a court within days of being charged, rather than four or five weeks later, as
The second stage, which came into effect just over a fortnight ago, ensures that defendants charged with the most serious cases, such as murder and rape, appear in front of a Crown court judge in little more than a week after charge, following a single magistrates court appearance.
Mrs. Lawrence: I thank my hon. and learned Friend for that reply. I am sure that, like me, he realises that in more serious cases, the delays before the final resolution is achieved often cause extra distress to the individuals or the families concerned. What overall reduction in delay will be offered by a speedy Crown court appearance?
The Solicitor-General: My hon. Friend is right that delay has an effect, for example, on victims and witnesses. The idea is to move such cases into the Crown court quickly. The experience in the past fortnight has been good. For example, a case was reported to me yesterday involving a rape committed on 19 January. The case was heard in the Exeter Crown court a couple of days ago, and the person will be sentenced shortly. Such swift treatment of serious cases is to be welcomed. I shall be visiting my hon. Friend's Crown Prosecution Service area in the next week or so, and I hope to get good news about swift justice there, as well.
Mr. John Burnett (Torridge and West Devon): The Narey review stressed the importance of an efficient and effective Crown Prosecution Service. At the last Solicitor-General's questions, I mentioned to the hon. and learned Gentleman that additional funding had been made available to the Crown Prosecution Service, but he knows as well as I do that the morale of the CPS has been rock bottom. I should like the Solicitor-General to answer the question that I asked him last time: will he cause to be conducted an independent review of the morale and effectiveness of the Crown Prosecution Service? If so, when, and will he put the results of that review in the public domain?
The Solicitor-General: I do not accept that CPS morale is rock bottom. There were problems last year, but there has been a significant increase in funding--about 23 per cent. nationwide in the next year. The hon. Gentleman's area has hit the jackpot, as it will receive a 14 per cent. increase in real funding next year. Overall, nationwide, that means some 500 more people in the CPS to carry out prosecutions. There will be a certain number in the hon. Gentleman's area, as well. There was a problem of stress. The CPS management will re-examine that in the coming year.
Mr. Gerald Bermingham (St. Helens, South): I declare an interest as a practising lawyer. Bearing in mind that part two of the Narey reforms is now coming into effect, will my hon. and learned Friend learn the lesson of the procedures that took place in Northampton and other places during the experimental period, where it was found that if the process went ahead too quickly, the case that finally came to trial was deficient from the prosecution's point of view, because not all the statements and forensic evidence had been obtained? Although
The Solicitor-General: I accept what my hon. Friend says. There is always tension between speedy justice on the one hand and the rights of defendants on the other. Certainly, cases must not move so quickly that the rights of defendants are prejudiced.