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Foot and Mouth

3. Mr. Henry Bellingham (North-West Norfolk): What discussions he has had with the First Secretary of the National Assembly for Wales about producing a Welsh action plan for preventing future outbreaks of foot and mouth. [35108]

The Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Paul Murphy): I have regular meetings with the First Minister at which a variety of issues relating to foot and mouth are discussed. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State also has regular meetings with the Assembly Minister for Rural Affairs.

Mr. Bellingham: Does the Secretary of State share the view of the Farmers Union of Wales that the impact of last year's foot and mouth crisis on Wales was devastating and had many ongoing effects? Does he also share the FUW's view that the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food failed to understand the need of Welsh farmers during the crisis? For example, there was a serious breakdown in communication between MAFF and the National Assembly when MAFF culled out border farms and then failed to inform Welsh officials. Surely that is

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yet another reason to have a full public inquiry into the foot and mouth crisis, and will the Secretary of State support it?

Mr. Murphy: I do not share those views. As a result of the relationship between the National Assembly for Wales and the Government, we have introduced a considerable number of packages and measures to help Welsh farming and the Welsh rural economy. It is not always enough, but we are trying to deal with what was, of course, a devastating blow for rural Wales—I agree with the hon. Gentleman about that. The Assembly put £65 million into a rural recovery plan. The actions of a Labour-led Assembly and a Labour Government were absolutely right. We did what we could to put right a very difficult situation for Welsh farmers and the Welsh rural economy.

Mr. Huw Edwards (Monmouth): Will my right hon. Friend join me in commending the distinct approach to agriculture that is being developed by the Welsh Assembly's Minister for Rural Affairs, Carwyn Jones? Does he believe that the priorities of the new action plan should include support for organic farming, expansion of the Tir Gofal agri-environmental scheme and greater support for Farming Connect? Will he join me in congratulating all the people at Usk agricultural college who put on the Farming Connect roadshow last Saturday, which attracted many farmers from Monmouthshire?

Mr. Murphy: I agree with my hon. Friend's comments about Usk agricultural college, which I know well. It has done a marvellous job in the past few months in ensuring that farmers in Monmouthshire are well catered for. I also agree—I think that the people of Wales, including the farming community, would agree too—that the Welsh Minister for Rural Affairs has done an excellent job during the past 12 months. There is no doubt about that. He is working together with the Government to ensure that we do all that we can to help rural Wales.

Mr. Roger Williams (Brecon and Radnorshire): Given the support of the Welsh farming community and the farming unions for the devolution of animal health functions to the Assembly, what discussions has the Secretary of State had with Assembly Ministers to introduce the secondary legislation that will enable that to happen?

Mr. Murphy: The hon. Gentleman refers to an area in which during the past 12 months the Assembly has, de facto, done a great deal on behalf of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs—before that, the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food—in terms of what happens in Wales. That is because it is much closer to the ground.

Several matters remain to be dealt with in devolving any animal health functions to the Assembly. The hon. Gentleman can rest assured that I have already had discussions with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and with Ministers in the Assembly.

Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley): When will the Secretary of State come off it? He knows that the handling of foot and mouth was botched. It cost £500 million and

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35,184 cattle, 304,847 sheep and 5,941 pigs were slaughtered. Does he agree that the agriculture and tourism industries could not withstand another outbreak of foot and mouth? Does he agree with Bob Parry of the Farmers Union of Wales that one measure that would help Welsh and other British farmers would be to ban any substandard meat from coming into this country?

Mr. Murphy: I agree that we must ensure that we are vigilant about the importation of illegal meat. The hon. Gentleman is right about that. However, he is wrong in one respect. His comments come badly from a member of the party that dealt so poorly with the BSE crisis not many years ago. If his party was in government, it would have done nothing different from what the Government have done over the past 12 months. Millions and millions of pounds have been paid out in compensation to the farming community, and millions more have been paid in Wales for a rural recovery plan.

As regards tourism, the Assembly and the Government jointly are doing a great deal to bring tourists back to Wales, both from this country and abroad.

Mr. Evans: It is amazing, is it not, Mr. Speaker? The Secretary of State admits that we want to stop the importation of substandard meat, but the Government do nothing about it. When will they bring forward proposals to ensure that substandard meat is banned from entering this country, and when will the Secretary of State ensure that there are proper lines of communication? Last night was a warning shot across everybody's bows. We all feared that there would be another outbreak of foot and mouth. When will he ensure that cheap imports of food into Britain are banned?

Mr. Murphy: The hon. Gentleman is right about last night and we should remain vigilant in rural areas about foot and mouth. On meat imports, we recognise the genuine concerns of the farming community. That is why the Government, the Assembly, local authorities and Customs and Excise are working together to ensure that there is much greater vigilance and much greater public information. There is a tremendous amount of activity within government to ensure that we alert people to the dangers of illegally imported food. I agree entirely with the hon. Gentleman on that. However, he is wrong to say that the Government do not recognise the problems because we certainly do.

Farming and Food

4. Mr. Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy): What discussions he has had with (a) ministerial colleagues and (b) the National Assembly for Wales on the implementation of the report "Farming and Food: A Sustainable Future", with particular reference to modulation; and if he will make a statement. [35109]

The Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Paul Murphy): I have regular meetings with ministerial colleagues and the National Assembly for Wales in which a wide range of farming issues are discussed.

Mr. Llwyd: I thank the right hon. Gentleman for that reply which, bearing in mind the fact that he had a month's notice of the specific question, is rather pathetic.

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Does he agree with the Farmers Union of Wales and the National Farmers Union Wales that flat-rate modulation would be ruinous for the smaller and medium-sector Welsh farmer? It is included in the report on England, which also says that it should happen in Wales. If the right hon. Gentleman is truly batting for Wales, when will he stand by the crease?

Mr. Murphy: I think that the hon. Gentleman would agree in principle with modulation. After all, his party voted in favour of it in the National Assembly not so long ago. I am sure that he would also agree with what his colleagues in the European Parliament say as members of the European group. They want a

That is all about modulation. The hon. Gentleman's party in Europe and the Assembly wants modulation.

The hon. Gentleman is right that discussions on the details are still taking place between the National Assembly and the Government. Of course we will look carefully at those. He knows that there is a distinction between the Welsh farming community and the farming community in England, and we will consider those issues. However, his party is in favour of modulation in principle, and so is mine.

Mr. Win Griffiths (Bridgend): Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is a shame that the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Llwyd) introduces a critical and sallow note to the farming debate, especially as there is general agreement throughout Wales and in the hon. Gentleman's party that my Assembly Member, Carwyn Jones, has done a great job in leading the Agriculture and Rural Affairs Department? Is it not good that "Farming and Food: A Sustainable Future" contains a blueprint that all people from rural communities in Wales fully support so that we can develop the food industry in Wales to maximise profits for our rural communities?

Mr. Murphy: I agree with my hon. Friend. Although I expect ignorant criticism of the Welsh Minister for Rural Affairs from Members who represent English constituencies, I would not expect it from a Welsh Member of Parliament.

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