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The hon. Gentleman asked when I first saw the report. I do not recall precisely, but I assure him that it was long after the leak appeared in the newspaper. He touched on a number of other issues, including product labelling and other matters mentioned in the report, and asked when we would make them a reality. As I have said, the report was published only this morning. The Government intend to look carefully at its many detailed recommendations, and to discuss with the widest range of interests how we should pursue them.
I thought it a bit rich for the hon. Gentleman to ask why we did not stop talking about CAP reform and take a lead. His Government had 18 years in which to take a lead. It is no good Opposition Members pretending that they can run away from every bit of their legacy, because they plainly cannot.
The hon. Gentleman is right to say that farm incomes are too low, and have fallen. The report clearly states not just that something must be done to make farming more prosperous, but that much of what must be done is in the hands of the industry itself, and that the issues, difficult as they are, must be addressed. It also states that we all want a prosperous farming industry and farming community, not least because without prosperity and profits we shall not obtain the relevant investment. I welcome that comment.
The hon. Gentleman made a couple of other rhetorical allusions to sweeping away the CAP. He also asked why the report referred only to England. Those were its terms of reference, if he recalls. The authors reported on the position in England becausein case he has not noticedagriculture is a devolved responsibility in Scotland and Wales.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned import controls. While I accept that we need to do moreand we are working on it nowthe import control procedures have been substantially strengthened since we inherited them from the Conservatives. He cited what the report says about the "abysmal" record on health, without seeming to recognise that at least part of the background to those remarks is the BSE crisis, which certainly did not occur when this Government were in power.
There was a great deal of rhetoric about how society is not to blame. It is possible that not every Member has had time to look at the report. It says that there is much that is wrong in British farming, that much of what is done today is very damaging to the environment, and that the structure of production subsidies has partly created and partly exacerbated the problem. It also says, howeverI for one welcome this, although I do not say that everyone willthat we ought not to blame farmers for that.
I was asked who, in that case, we should blame. The hon. Gentleman does not wish me to blame the structure of the CAP, to which his Government signed us up and which they failed to reform. I presume that he does not want me to blame the signals from the production
The hon. Gentleman went from complaining that we were in too much haste to get the report to calling for a full, independent inquiry. He was not sure whether the report was welcome or radical. We understand the National Farmers Union's reservations about modulation, but it welcomes much else in the report. Every other organisation that has commented on it welcomed it. For example, the Country Land and Business Association says that it is visionary. Only the Conservative party is desperate to be negative. That is because it wants to drag us back to the days of the foot and mouth epidemic.
The report is about looking forward. It is the hon. Gentleman's tragedy and that of his party that he is incapable of doing that; he wants to look only backwards. People throughout the farming community, not least younger farmers, are anxious to achieve broad consensus about the future. I cannot believe that the hon. Gentleman has not come across them. They are making decisions, such as whether to restock if they lost their livestock, now. They are deciding about their future. The last thing that they need is to hang around for two or three years while we hold a full-scale, judicial public inquiry, which would have to take recommendations about the future into account.
Dr. Jack Cunningham (Copeland): We should thank Don Curry and the members of the commission for producing a visionary report. It sets out an excellent vision of a sustainable future for agriculture in all its forms. It is underpinned by the hard realities that we need to face to implement it.
What proposals does my right hon. Friend have to increase modulation? That would be a sensible, practical and quick method of effecting an important recommendation. I suggest that she takes no lessons from the Conservative Opposition on reform of the common agricultural policy. They failed abysmally to effect any reasonable reform, and when the Government took office in 1997, we found that former Conservative Ministers were not even on speaking terms with their opposite numbers in Europe.
Margaret Beckett: My right hon. Friend is right. It has long been a mystery to me that the Conservative party believed that it could make progress on agreement in such circumstances. I welcome his praise for the commission, and he is right to say that its report is rooted in reality. Although some people will be at variance with the recommendations about how we should tackle the issues, I suspect that few will quarrel with the analysis of what is wrong and the reality that we face.
I understand why my right hon. Friend urged me to move swiftly to increase modulation, which constitutes our maximum freedom of manoeuvre. As I suggested, the Government will consider the commission's recommendation. However, I know that his long and deep acquaintance with the subject means that he will understand and share our view. We have some anxiety about the amount of inflexibility and administrative complication in the scope for modulation as it stands. We want changes and improvements to be made as quickly as possible. That would make it easier to tackle some of the issues.
Andrew George (St. Ives): There is a great deal to welcome in the report of Sir Don Curry and his group. Although I suppose that there is bound to be an element of trading blame, I think that that can wait for another day. The report is positive about the future and contains many policies and initiatives on which we should work fast because they should be implemented as quickly as possible. Indeed, most of the questions that arise from the report are about the speed with which they can be implemented. I suspect that there is broad cross-party support for many of the proposed initiatives, so rather than trade blame, we should concentrate on moving quickly towards what is a very positive vision for the future of agriculture and rural communities.
I should like to warn the Secretary of State about phrases such as "restructuring of agriculture". Often, that term is a euphemism for getting rid of smaller farmers, almost as if the expectation that farmers will leave the industry is pre-ordained by God and not a product of policy. Unless we want the countryside to be turned into prairie and ranchI do not think that we dowe must recognise the importance of small family farms in our landscape and rural communities. I hope that she will take that point on board in implementing the policy.
Inevitably, much emphasis is placed on CAP reform. I am glad that the Government now support extended modulation in agriculture. That is where the Liberal Democrats have been coming from for some time. However, the question is how quickly it can be implemented and where the Government are with reforming agriculture. We need to complete the process as quickly as possible. Does the Secretary of State believe that the proposed extension of modulation to 10 per cent. by 2004 is too modest or too ambitious a target for the Government?
With regard to payments in eurossomething that my party would be expected to recommenddoes the Secretary of State believe that that change can be introduced very quickly? What procedures will be necessary for its implementation? Does she believe that support for marketing is compliant with the Government's approach in the code of practice, which needs to be reviewed in respect of the supermarkets' attitude and practices concerning farmers? Finally, does she agree that a great deal more needs to be done to ensure that we stop illegal meat imports? I do not think that she has properly addressed that issue.
Margaret Beckett: I know that Sir Don Curry will be grateful for the hon. Gentleman's welcome of the report. I share his hope that, in time, there will be cross-party support for many of the commission's recommendations. Its members served not as representatives, but as
The hon. Gentleman asked a number of questions about speed, the structure of the industry and so on. The commission was very clear that it believes that there is no one-size-fits-all solution to the problems of farming and that it has no preconceived ideas about what the pattern of farming should be. Certainly, it does not envisage the disappearance of all small farms, and neither does it necessarily envisage concentration into a small number of large units. However, it indicates that it believes that the future structure of the industry should be driven by the decisions of the individual businesses within it and proposes a substantially increased programme of advice and supportissues that we shall have to consider. It also believes that it is right not only to remove production subsidies, which it believes are damaging, especially to the environment and to the future of farming, but to be prepared to support environmental programmes and steps of that sort. I think that it holds the viewcertainly, this would be my reactionthat that is exactly the sort of project that is likely to assist small farmers, not least in areas such as that of the hon. Gentleman.
The hon. Gentleman invited me to speculate on issues such as the detailed recommendations about the euro and the 10 per cent. modulation in 2004. We shall need to consider those issues with all the stakeholders. Only then can we say what moves we can make, and how speedily.
There are those who, understandably in present circumstances, have reservations about modulation. Elsewhere in Europe, there are discussions about the possibility of compulsory modulation. We should seek to ensure that such proposals do not appear in a form that those concerned would find difficult to implement.
As the hon. Gentleman says, there is a range of other issues, such as marketing and codes of practice, that we can address over time. The Government hope to address such issues when we bring forward our proposals.