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12 Feb 2003 : Column 983—continued

Mr. Hayes: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I am familiar with the problems of that kind that have been suffered by pig farmers in Norfolk. The payment will be calculated on the basis of the physical facts of successful claims made over three years: 2000, 2001 and 2002. One or more of those years can be dropped if it is felt to be unrepresentative or exceptional, but the point is that all those years were exceptionally bad for British farming. The baseline that will be constructed will therefore be implicitly unfair to British agriculture, and my hon. Friend is right to highlight that point.

Measuring the environmental impact and the social and cultural importance of farming requires a balance sheet for agriculture. I recommend to the House and to the nation Lincolnshire's Charter for Agriculture and Horticulture, which provides an excellent model.

Mr. Jonathan Sayeed (Mid-Bedfordshire): A fine document.

Mr. Hayes: My hon. Friend has obviously read it. It suggests such a calculation of the true value of food farming and horticulture, leading to an annual statement. To be respected, and therefore enforceable, any system must be founded on such a degree of empiricism. The criteria against which payments are made should be fairly scrutinised and cost-neutral to the industry. Farmers have faced a bureaucratic burden that has increased overheads at a time when incomes are falling. But if the integrated admission and control scheme—IACS—is complicated, imagine what a multi-faceted, multi-tiered environmentally friendly payment system might mean in terms of paperwork. Simplicity is crucial. A straightforward system of single payments based on a clearly defined, understandable set of criteria is the best means of re-establishing a demoralised industry's faith in the new regime.

Farming's problems are typified by the plight of the dairy sector. It is almost impossible to make money producing raw milk when farm-gate prices barely exceed the cost of production. The only way in which a viable future for the British dairy industry can be established is by creating a climate in which farmers can add value to their base product. This means collaborative, producer-based processing. The Minister—the whole House—will know that Britain is unusual in terms of the concentration of processing capacity outside the industry. That means that the dairy sector is particularly vulnerable to price pressures, and this must be addressed in the reform of the regime.

Dairy farmers also need action on bovine tuberculosis. The National Farmers Union said:

In 2002, 16,066 new cases were confirmed, and if we wait until the end of the trials, the whole of the west country will be a hot spot. It is well established that badgers are one—I say only one—of the various causes of the spread of TB, yet the badgers culled so far have been killed to no effect. What vaccination measures are the

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Government considering? How quickly can reliable tests using the latest science be put in place? How bad will the crisis be allowed to get—with farmers suffering the horror of TB outbreaks and ever more taxpayers' money being spent—before the Government consider a limited cull of badgers outside the trial areas, when there is clear evidence of the infection being passed between species?

Mr. Bill Wiggin (Leominster): The Minister will be aware of how concerned I have been about the crisis facing cattle owners in the United Kingdom. There are several problems with the current situation. The Krebs trials, as they are known, will probably not produce a conclusive result. The huge amount spent on research into tuberculosis is spent mainly on human tuberculosis. Does my hon. Friend agree that the real problem is that a commercially viable vaccine might not be found? If one is found, the Government must insist that it is produced, or in some way make it economically viable to produce. I hope that my hon. Friend will continue to pay a great deal of attention to this crisis, which is having a big impact on dairy and beef producers across the United Kingdom.

Mr. Hayes: I am tempted to say that that is why I included the issue in my speech. My hon. Friend is absolutely right to say that there is a profound problem. He is also right about vaccinations, which is why I challenged the Minister on that matter. I know that the Select Committee will look at the question in some detail. My hon. Friend is a notable—some would say inspirational—member of that Committee, and he will bring the diligence that he has already shown in defending his farmers over this issue to the tasks that lie ahead. [Interruption.] I was pausing for breath as I thought about those dreadful problems.

Other important questions deserve equally clear answers. It is proposed to reduce the single payment between 2006 and 2012. As the Under-Secretary knows, the UK is one of the few member states that operate a voluntary modulation scheme to fund rural development. Does he agree that, to be fair to UK farmers, the current rates must not increase unless and until there is a parity of rates in a compulsory modulation scheme throughout the EU?

It is proposed to use a proportion of the amount arising from payment cuts to make budget savings that are destined for future market needs. Will the Under-Secretary guarantee that any such digression must be at the flat rate, with no de minimis exemption for small farms in the EU? Farmers rightly highlight their anxiety that the UK will suffer most from modulation and digression proposals because it has relatively large farms.

It is proposed to establish compulsory, permanent set-aside. Does the Under-Secretary realise that that is incoherent and unnecessary, and should be fought? Again, farmers have stated their opposition to the proposal and to the proposed ban on growing energy crops on set-aside land. The Chirac-Schröder agreement on CAP finance in October means that little money will be left for rural development. How will the farm advisory service and related measures be funded?

The British people have had enough of the wasteful, bureaucratic, inequitable common agricultural policy. Despite their rhetoric, the Government have not even

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taken up CAP reform where the Conservatives left off. The Under-Secretary looks sceptical, but I remind him that when in government, our Ministers produced "The Case for Radical Reform" of the CAP. It received little support from the then Opposition, of whose agriculture team the Under-Secretary, for whom I have a great deal of respect, was a prominent member. The Conservatives were determined to grasp the nettle, but the current Administration do not share that determination.

The motion simply expresses the Under-Secretary's regrets. He talked about taking robust action to defend the British position and highlighting some of the issues that hon. Members raised. However, the motion contains no call to action or fighting talk. Regrets come cheap and hon. Members will share my doubts about how hard he will fight and where he will draw the line on behalf of our farmers.

The tortuous negotiations that surround the reform are emblematic of Euro-politics. They are never straightforward, always esoteric and seldom in Britain's interests. Britons see their farmers facing ruin while they subsidise tobacco growers, non-existent olive farmers and bloated Brussels bureaucrats. The British people pay more than £1.5 billion a year for the privilege of being part of that club.

Mr. Desmond Swayne (New Forest, West): Daylight robbery.

Mr. Hayes: I would not put it in such lurid terms because I always speak with moderation. However, the British people's total contribution in 2000 was £1.8 billion and half the EU's budget goes on the CAP. In Blair's Britain, we all face the awful prospect of being robbed, but choosing to be robbed is extraordinary. Those whose nights are plagued by the European dream justify it on the basis that there is no alternative, and that some mythical, predetermined course of history makes closer and more expensive involvement in a failed collective policy for European agriculture inevitable. We are also told that our national freedom is irretrievable and that we have travelled too far down the road to national oblivion to turn back.

I do not share that defeatist mentality, and neither do most Britons. I was about to say that I did not share that Vichy mentality, but I did not want to make faint hearts flutter. The CAP must be radically reformed or die. This is the last chance for reform. Surely the Minister will not return to the House with a half-hearted package that will disappoint both Members and our farming industry, and tell us that further reform is on the cards. We have heard that so often before.

I am proud of British food and British farming. Agriculture anchors rural communities to the land. The availability of agricultural employment gives opportunities to young people and manual workers who would otherwise be excluded from the rural economy and from the countryside itself. But, even more than that, agriculture is at the heart of our consciousness and culture. It assures the continuity of our agrarian history and binds man to nature.

British farmers deserve better than these proposals, and Britain's countryside deserves a fair deal. The Government must fight for a decent future for British

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farming—or step aside and allow those of us who will fight to take on the people and policies that threaten rural Britain.

Viable British agriculture, policies that are accountable to the British people, and a living, working countryside—those are our goals; that is our mission. Conservatives will never be deterred from battling for British farming.

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