Examination of Witnesses (Questions 1140-1142)|
MP, LORD WHITTY
WEDNESDAY 15 MAY 2002
1140. We have clear evidence of other models
on the Continentcertainly Denmark, the Netherlands and
Francewhere in some cases farmers control 90 per cent of
the processing in their country. Does it perhaps indicate that
the competition authorities in this countryand it certainly
came up when we considered the future of Milk Marqueare
taking an out-of-date view as to the international competitiveness
of some market places? Certainly it was argued at the time that
by their focus on the UK milk market as opposed to the European
milk market, they had failed to grasp that there were other major
operators who were competing particularly into the processing
sector, which they were covering by their approach to Milk Marque.
(Margaret Beckett) I am familiar with that argument,
and it is a very long-running and long-standing, almost philosophical
debate which runs much wider than in this sphere. I am familiar
with the examples that you give, and I agree that there are striking
examples. One cannot dispute that. All I would simply say to you
is that if we are in a position where there is any collaboration
and co-operation, to say that we are not going to start because
if we do and we go to 90 per cent, the competition authorities
will stop that, is probably stretching the argument a bit. There
is a genuine and general argument about the role of competition
authorities and what market place they should be judging, which
runs right through the whole area of competition policy, and always
has. We can go back to the days of Michael Heseltine at the DTI:
should we be judging this industry, should we be aiming for a
market leader in Europe as opposed to elsewhere? It is a very,
very difficult issue.
1141. Secretary of State, British agriculture
over the last few years has obviously had quite a lot of trauma,
with BSE, foot and mouth disease, and now we have the rumbling
problem of bovine TB which is more regional in its focus. Through
all of this there has been the leitmotif of the pound/continental
currency/euro relationship which I think has been by far the most
debilitating factor over the long term. So farmers do come along
quite often, I find, and say, "We don't know where to turn."
Does British agriculture have a future? If you are asked that
question and are given a minute to reply without hesitation, deviation
or repetition, what would you say?
(Margaret Beckett) Unquestionably British agriculture
has a future, and potentially a very successful future, as long
as British farmers want to make it so.
1142. Would you add to that the sort of phrase
which we have heard very little in this Committee during the whole
of these last few weeks, that the core of that future is the competitive
production of food?
(Margaret Beckett) Absolutelycompetitive and
Chairman: Secretary of State, Lord Whitty, Mr
Lebrecht, if there is anything you wish to add, no doubt you will
let us know. There are one or two more technical questions we
will pursue with you rather than taking time before the Committee.
We are grateful to you for your attendance.