Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Mr. Nick Brown: They are.

Mr. Paice: The Minister says that they are. They are not: proactive culling has not taken place at three of the 10 sites. If the Minister does not know what is going on in a programme for which he is responsible, he should be ashamed of himself. The husbandry panel published proposals last May, but the Minister did not respond until two weeks ago. Even then, he failed to act on some of the recommendations. Farmers know the truth--that none of these Ministers wants to make the tough decisions that may flow from the completed trials. The Minister has also failed to address the issue of cattle movement out of the hot spots and into clean areas.

We have also heard about the sum of £26 million for the pig industry restructuring scheme. The Minister said that he was trying to ensure that the amount was rolled over, and he has our support in that.

Mr. Brown: That will not help.

Mr. Paice: The Minister says that that will not help, but he forgets that he has only two or three months to secure the rollover. However, if he fails to convince the Chancellor to roll over that money, will he assure the House that he will use it to help the pig industry by advancing the amount that will be raised from the levy for the pig welfare scheme? The industry has asked him to do that, but so far he has rejected the request. If there is no rollover, that money would be available to the Minister, and it is reasonable to expect him to use it for that purpose.

Finally, what has the Minister done about the cause of the outbreak of swine fever? His own officials attribute it to illegally imported pigmeat. What has he done to control any further such imports?

Much of the debate has been about regulation and the opportunities for diversification. Of course agriculture must change, but change should not mean extinction--yet that is what faces thousands of farmers today.

We have set out on many occasions our principles for reform of the common agricultural policy. It ill behoves the Minister to accuse the Opposition of not having ideas, given that the Prime Minister went to Berlin when the Agenda 2000 proposals were being agreed, and managed to make the resolution even worse for Britain than the settlement that the Minister had achieved.

1 Feb 2001 : Column 546

For farming to survive tomorrow, we do not need to concentrate on preaching about new directions. Farming is being priced and regulated out of existence. My right hon. Friend the Member for South-West Norfolk gave an excellent example of that from her constituency. Lord Haskins made 21 recommendations, on top of the 98 that the Minister had already accepted. What was the Minister's reaction to Lord Haskins? He created three more taskforces.

Never has long grass been so abused as by this Minister. Since he has been in office, 20 separate working groups, taskforces and reviews have been set up. Lord Haskins' report was published on 16 November. Why did the Minister not tell his civil servants the day after to get on and fulfil its recommendations at once? In the time between publication of the report and the announcement of the taskforces, another 4,000 people lost their jobs in the farming industry.

The action plan was an example of cynical manipulation of the facts. The Minister produced one budget for the Chief Secretary to the Treasury that contained swingeing cuts, and then reinstated that money in the expectation that he would be acclaimed as a hero--and he did not do that with the hill livestock allowance alone. For example, in the action plan, the Minister sought to abolish the 30-month wait limit, but who introduced the limit in the first place? Labour. He sought to hold the increase in meat hygiene charges to the level of inflation, but who wanted to raise them by more than inflation? Labour. He sought to defer the annual charge for sheep dip disposal. Who set the charge? Labour. He deferred the introduction of integrated pollution prevention and control for pig farmers. Who introduced it? Labour.

The harsh fact is that, by his actions, the Minister has betrayed consumers and conned farmers. He came into office with his bonhomie and apparent concern, yet has presided over a worsening crisis, to which his main response has been to set up working groups, taskforces and reviews. While he has dithered and delayed, farmers and farm workers have been losing their jobs and their businesses faster than ever before, at a rate of 60 a week--week in, week out--for the past two years. During his speech, at least two more jobs were lost. The sooner it is his job that is lost, the better.

6.50 pm

The Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Ms Joyce Quin): This debate has been characterised by a number of thoughtful contributions, focusing on the present difficulties in agriculture and on ideas for securing the future of the industry. I welcome much of what has been said, although once again, the speeches of Opposition Front-Bench Members have proved the exception in what has overall been a worthwhile debate.

At least the hon. Member for South Suffolk (Mr. Yeo) began his speech by recognising the way in which my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food had listened to the concerns of farmers around the country. However, the hon. Gentleman failed to

1 Feb 2001 : Column 547

acknowledge that my right hon. Friend has not stopped at simply listening to farmers' concerns but has taken an enormous number of measures and a great deal of action. Fortunately, that fact emerged from other contributions, including that of my right hon. Friend, during the debate.

My right hon. Friend began his speech by pointing out the inaccuracies in the Opposition's motion. He dealt effectively with the charges of failure to act and detailed the action that we had taken in the light of the measures that are necessary in the short term, as well as the medium and longer term. He spoke of the measures that had been taken domestically, within the United Kingdom, and of the work that we have put into building up alliances for common agricultural policy reform. The hon. Member for North Norfolk (Mr. Prior) said that he would insist on CAP reform. It is a question not simply of standing up at European meetings and insisting, but of building up alliances so that concrete changes in agricultural reform are secured. That is what the Government, through their much more constructive European engagement, have done.

Many right hon. and hon. Members referred to the action plan for farming. Excellent progress is being made in the delivery of that plan. Of the 63 measures in the plan, 49 have been implemented. Recent examples, which have been referred to by some Opposition Members as well as some of my right hon. and hon. Friends, have been the ongoers and outgoers elements of the pig industry restructuring scheme and the recent announcement of aid to help to secure the future of small and medium-sized abattoirs. I commend the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Monmouth (Mr. Edwards) about the situation in that sector in his constituency.

My right hon. Friend also referred to the introduction of the farm business advisory service. We are very keen that there should be a good take-up of the scheme. Indeed, I was in the south-west only yesterday, encouraging farmers in that area, particularly hill farmers, to take advantage of that service. We sent details of the scheme to all farmers in the United Kingdom to encourage those in isolated and remote areas and those who were worried about the future to access and take advantage of it. We feel strongly about that.

My right hon. Friend and others also referred to the rural development programme and the welcome flexibility that it offers all sectors in agriculture, including, for example, horticulture, which does not get mainstream support from the common agricultural policy. Indeed, the rural development programme is a forward-looking measure, which recognises the differing roles that farmers fulfil--the important roles of food production and of countryside stewardship.

We have achieved a lot in CAP reform, especially through the establishment of the second rural development pillar. I believe, too, that we have made real progress in securing improvements in animal welfare. We achieved a change in the treaty to ensure that animals were recognised as sentient beings, and we are moving towards a more level playing field for directives on the welfare of laying hens and, recently, on pig welfare, about which many hon. Members are deeply concerned. Indeed, our

1 Feb 2001 : Column 548

successes in the EU have been shown by small but important measures, such as those safeguarding traditional hedgerow practices, about which hon. Members have expressed much concern in previous agriculture debates.

I should like to turn to some of the specific questions on sugar. The right hon. Member for South-West Norfolk (Mrs. Shephard) asked about recent changes proposed by the Commission. It is true that the Commission is reconsidering aspects of the everything but arms proposal, but it is also true that no formal proposal for change has yet come forward. She referred to speculation in the farming press, but until the whole college of Commissioners considers the issues, we can neither react to them, nor make a public pronouncement on them. However, my right hon. Friend the Minister will meet Commissioner Lamy to find out about his current proposals, and we shall continue to strive to ensure a balance.

The right hon. Lady said that when Conservative Ministers called for dramatic reforms in the EU sugar regime in the past, farmers were in a different financial position. Indeed, that suggestion was repeated by the hon. Member for South-East Cambridgeshire (Mr. Paice). I accept that farmers were in a different financial position, but several Conservative Members, including some who sit on the Front Bench, have written to me putting an argument entirely different from the one that she and the hon. Member for South-East Cambridgeshire have espoused. Several Conservative Members have told us that they want the sugar regime to be dramatically changed along the lines that she previously proposed.

Next Section

IndexHome Page