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Organic Farming

5. Mr. David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire): How much his Department has allocated to research and development into organic farming methods in the past 12 months. [151389]

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. Elliot Morley): This year's budget for research and development into organic farming methods is currently £2.1 million, nearly twice as much as in 1997-98. In addition, £2.3 million has been allocated to establish the European Centre for Organic Fruit and Nursery Stock at Horticulture Research International in Kent.

Mr. Taylor: Organic farming methods are all about sustainability. Does my hon. Friend believe that any part of the foot and mouth tragedy is linked to unsustainable factory farming? Has not "pile it high, sell it cheap" in the supermarkets led inexorably to the costly piles of burning carcases in the countryside? Will not greater investment in organic farming methods help to curb the excesses of over-intensive food production, which are wreaking such havoc on farming viability in rural Britain?

Mr. Morley: It is understandable that the foot and mouth outbreak has made us focus on farming policy in this country, including intensive farming. It would be wrong, however, to blame intensive farming for the outbreak, which has been caused by a number of factors unrelated to it. Certain developments in modern agricultural practice have occurred, such as the growth in the dealer network and the increase in long-distance movement of animals. There are issues that need to be questioned on the basis of sustainability.

Mr. Paul Keetch (Hereford): The Minister will be aware that Herefordshire has more organic farming per hectare than any other county in England and Wales. How much has his Department allocated to research and development? Organic farmers must be told how to protect their crops from contamination by GM trial sites, which another Department has authorised in their locality.

Mr. Morley: Part of the reason for establishing GM trial sites is to examine such issues as pollen spread. Of course that has implications for organic farmers, which is why the organic organisations have been involved in consultations with the supply chain initiative on modified agricultural crops on setting up and monitoring those trials, separation distances and the implications. That is right and proper and makes for a stronger argument for having field scale trials to examine such issues.

Dr. George Turner (North-West Norfolk): Does my hon. Friend accept that we must be sure that produce labelled "organic" is not seen to be good where produce labelled "ordinary farming" is seen to be bad? Is not it important that research concentrates on which of the

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organic methods of farming produce safe food and benefit the environment? Should not the Government encourage outcomes, rather than labels?

Mr. Morley: Any claim made for any food must be substantiated and based on accurate science. There has been detailed research into organic production, especially in connection with environmental benefits. It is clear that environmental benefits arise from organic farming. We expect all food, whether produced by organic or conventional means, to be safe and to meet the standards set by the Government. Those standards are carefully and rigorously enforced.


6. Mrs. Joan Humble (Blackpool, North and Fleetwood): What assessment he has made of the impact of regulations on economic links of fisheries vessels on the British fisheries sector. [151391]

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. Elliot Morley): A full report on the operation of the economic link licence condition in 1999 was published in November 2000 and placed in the Library of the House. The policy is working well. There was almost total compliance; foreign-owned UK vessels increased their landings and expenditure in the UK, and additional quota was made available to inshore fishermen in the under-10-metre fleet and the non-sector. A further report on compliance in 2000 will be published later this year.

Mrs. Humble: Is my hon. Friend aware that the regulations have been warmly welcomed by my constituents in Fleetwood? They have resulted in more than 30 Anglo-Spanish vessels joining Fleetwood's fish producers organisation, and in a very large increase in landings in the port that otherwise would have gone to foreign ports. However, will my hon. Friend look at the role of designated ports such as Fleetwood in the further application of these very welcome regulations?

Mr. Morley: I am well aware that my hon. Friend has done an awful lot of work with the Fleetwood fish forum to promote Fleetwood and to address issues concerning its fishing industry. The economic link condition has meant that about 300 tonnes of quota have been returned to the UK inshore fleet from foreign-owned UK vessels. Landings in ports are up by 300 per cent., and an additional sum of an estimated £3 million has been spent on goods and services in our fishing ports around the coast.

We believe that that is the right approach to deal with the issue of so-called quota hoppers. The system has brought benefits, although some Conservative Members said that, for legal reasons, we could not make it work. We have made it work, and it is a great deal better than using £55 million of public money to pay compensation for the failed policies of the previous Conservative Government.

Mr. Andrew George (St. Ives): The Minister knows that Liberal Democrats support the economic link measures. Will he say what further compensation is likely to be paid beyond the £55 million that he just mentioned?

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That compensation arises from the botched fiasco that was the Tory attempt to remove quota hoppers from the UK register. If the Minister had that money available for the UK fleet, would he direct it towards the lay-up problems in Scotland and the rest of the country, or would he use it on a decommissioning programme?

Mr. Morley: I can certainly think of far more constructive uses for that £55 million than using it to pay compensation. That sum is the full and total settlement of the claims made against the UK, although some legal costs remain to be settled. However, I assure the hon. Gentleman that compensation claims have been settled in full, and the total cost is about a quarter of the original claim.

Mr. Austin Mitchell (Great Grimsby): When my hon. Friend looks at the economic links regulations intended to regulate quota hoppers, will he bear it in mind that there will be many more quota hoppers unless he provides an urgent support package for the British fishing industry? Many British--and especially English--fishing vessels are not financially viable. If they go bust, the licences and quotas will be bought up by fishermen from countries that have provided aid packages to their fishing industry. Nearly every other European country has provided such a package for its industry. When will my hon. Friend be able to announce a generous aid package for the British fishing industry?

Mr. Morley: I can assure my hon. Friend that the economic link measures, and other factors, have caused the number of quota hoppers on the UK register to decline significantly. The number continues to decline. There has been no sign that foreign-owned fishing companies or vessels are interested in buying UK licences.

My hon. Friend makes a serious point, and I accept that the decline of fish stocks and other economic factors have hit the UK fleet. Our preference is to approach these matters on a UK basis, and there is a debate about the most effective way to support our fishing fleet.

What I want are measures that deal with the long-term problems--the structural problems of overcapacity and too many boats chasing too few fish. I accept that we must make it clear where we stand on those issues and I hope to do so in the near future.

Mr. Malcolm Moss (North-East Cambridgeshire): Does the Minister realise that his trumpeting of his success regarding the economic links regulations for fishing vessels in the British fisheries sector will be exposed as both futile and worthless given the crisis that is facing the British fishing industry? Without his immediate financial intervention to offset the North sea cod closure area, the UK fleet, particularly that in Scotland, faces financial disaster. Is it now the Government's policy to stand idly by and witness a substantial UK fleet reduction, which will make it easier, as has been pointed out, for vessels from southern EU countries to gain access to our northern waters after the common fisheries policy review in 2002?

Mr. Morley: That is a bit rich coming from the party that opened the door to quota hoppers. Under Conservative policies, the number of quota hoppers increased; under ours, the number has decreased.

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Of course, there is some difficulty with the availability of fish stocks and the impact of the cod closure area, but I make no apology for introducing that scheme. Indeed, it was introduced with the full support and involvement of representatives of the fishing industry because action had to be taken to deal with the pressure on fish stocks and the dire state that they are in.

There are implications for the entire UK fishing industry. There is also an element of a devolved approach in the structural funds that are available to MAFF and the Scottish Executive, which is an issue in itself. I can assure the House that we recognise the pressures on the industry. The scheme is the best way that we can assist--with assistance that is beneficial in the long, not the short term.

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