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Mrs. Eleanor Laing (Epping Forest): On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. You and your colleagues have frequently deprecated the practice by Ministers of making policy announcements outwith this House. I understand from her published agenda that the Minister for Children is due to make a speech tomorrow to the Local Government Association on the specific subject of the Green Paper on children at risk. The Prime Minister's office announced last week that this Green Paper will not be presented to the House before the autumn. Can you use your influence to require the Minister for Children to bring her Green Paper proposals here, to be discussed by Members of Parliament, before she takes them to any outside body?

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): I was unfamiliar with this case until the hon. Lady raised it. She is aware, as is the whole House, that Mr. Speaker would expect policy announcements by Government to be made in the House. Whether a Green Paper, which

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presumably initiates a period of consultation, is to be seen in quite the same way, is a matter of judgment, but, generally speaking, Mr. Speaker has made it clear that he expects, as far as possible, announcements to be made in this House rather than elsewhere.


Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): With permission, I propose to put together motions 2 to 6.

Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 118(6)(Standing Committees on Delegated Legislation),


Question agreed to.

Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 119(9)(European Standing Committees),

Additives in Animal Nutrition

Question agreed to.


Motion made,

Hon. Members: Object.

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Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 25 (Periodic adjournments),

Question agreed to.


Motion made,

Hon. Members: Object.



Motion made,

Hon. Members: Object.



10.33 pm

Bob Spink (Castle Point): I have a massive petition to present. Many Roman Catholics are opposed to the screening of the BBC sitcom "Popetown" and petition Parliament as the only available option, in view of the BBC's intransigent attitude. The BBC is required in the agreement associated with its charter not to broadcast programmes that include anything that offends against good taste or decency or may be offensive to public feelings. The petitioners believe that "Popetown" is in poor taste, lacks decency and will offend public feelings.

The petition, signed by 15,378 people, states:

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To lie upon the Table.

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Common Agricultural Policy

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Jim Murphy.]

10.35 pm

Mr. Oliver Letwin (West Dorset): I originally began to apply for this Adjournment debate when the position was somewhat different from the one that we face now. I had hoped that I might be able to withdraw my application for the debate on the ground that all the issues I wanted to raise had been resolved by a magnificent success in the common agricultural policy negotiations. I hoped that all the concerns expressed by farmers in West Dorset would have been dispensed with. It is indeed the case that some of those concerns have been resolved, but I am afraid that some remain, and in one respect this Adjournment debate has become more useful, and I shall deal with that first.

The Minister will undoubtedly have heard a similar tale from other Members with rural constituencies, but he may be only remotely aware of what has become abundantly clear to me. Some of the farmers in my constituency acquired their farms only recently. They did so in good faith on the basis of the assumption that, whatever the general grant regime and its application to the specific form of agriculture in which they engaged—some are mixed farming enterprises, some pure dairy farms—they would receive the grant or subsidy that attached to the farm that they had bought. Indeed, they bought the farms in the expectation that that would be the case.

The Minister will be aware of the frenzied concern among some of my constituents—and, I suspect, those of other hon. Members—when they believed that the seller of the land, depending on the date of sale, would receive the continuing subsidy under the new CAP regime and that they would not. If that were the case, some of my constituents would have been effectively pauperised, while others would have been quite uncovenantedly enriched. It is not my purpose to deprive any of my constituents of uncovenanted bonuses, but that seemed to me—and to my constituents who would be pauperised by the arrangements—to be very unfair.

I admit that I found the results of the negotiations complex, even by the standards of the CAP, and the Minister will of course have a much deeper understanding of the results than I or, I regret to say, even the most learned of my constituents could expect to acquire. The Minister will correct me if I am mistaken, but I believe that one of the outcomes of the negotiations has been that the national reserve is now available to the Minister and that he also has scope for discretion to resolve the problem equitably within the new structure. In other words, as a result of the negotiations, the Minister is able, on a national and domestic basis, to resolve the concerns of my constituents who might find themselves in the unenviable position of acquiring a farm without acquiring the grants that one would have expected to go with it.

I say that this debate is more apposite even than I had imagined, because I believe that the Minister now has the discretion. In that case I am addressing the right person rather than addressing indirectly an unseen Commission. I believe that the Minister can now resolve the problem and that, in appealing to him, I am appealing to the very man in all of England who can help my farmers to achieve an equitable resolution if they

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have bought their farms late in the day. If that is the case, I hope that the Minister will reassure me that in the course of the next few weeks and months he will propose a clear scheme that will ensure equitable treatment for those farmers.

I want to turn from that particular issue to a wider question about the effect of the CAP on my farms and, in particular, on my dairy farms. I say, grandly, "my dairy farms". I do not own one personally and there are times when I am profoundly grateful not to be the owner of a dairy farm in West Dorset. The Minister will be well aware from our previous encounters in Adjournment debates, and from the record of my encounters with his predecessors, that the great preponderance of farming in my constituency is dairy farming. Indeed, the preponderance of dairy farming has increased as a result of the virtual disappearance of the pig industry from my constituency. I would not be surprised if the present scheme saw a reduction in arable farming in my constituency, so dairy farming may soon be the only kind of farming left in the area. In any event, many of my farmers are dairy farmers.

Of all the people currently residing in this country, my dairy farmers—and, I fear, those in other constituencies—are the people who are least able to understand their predicament, and whose predicament is least comprehensible. They live in an Alice in Wonderland world, in which all the normal rules of economics are reversed. Instead of being allowed to make up for lack of revenue by increasing production, they are prohibited from so doing. Instead of being allowed to price into a market, they are effectively capped, and instead of being able to exert a counterbalancing pressure against the pressures of their customers, they are picked off one by one by much larger intermediaries and supermarkets. In short, they are as cogs in a machine whose working they cannot understand, rather than normal producers in a normal marketplace.

Those points will be familiar to the Minister. Indeed, it was with those points in mind—the Minister will correct me if I am wrong—that the Government rightly went to the negotiating table and sought a decoupling of subsidy from production and an early end to the system of quotas. My dairy farmers would have welcomed with open arms a genuine system of decoupling of payments for the dairy industry and an early end to quotas. They wanted a level playing field and economics that resembled the real world. Such an arrangement would have offered a new lease of life to some of my dairy farmers who are precariously poised on the edge of survival. However, many of my dairy farmers are very disappointed by the prolonged schedule for changes to the quotas; the slow process by which the quotas will be enlarged in the early years; the fact that the later enlargements of the quota have been abandoned, at least for the time being; and the fact that the payments will still not be decoupled during the period in which quotas remain.

On that note, I do not believe that I can be the only Member who is unable to explain to some of my dairy farmers exactly what the solution on decoupling for dairy payments is to be. I say that because, in this case, the NFU, which provides an admirable service in

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explaining such matters to their members, of whom I am one, says something that no ordinary human being can easily understand. For the sake of my dairy farmers, I hope that the Minister can cast some light on the matter. The NFU report tells us:

which I can understand—

The NFU may be exploring that; my farmers would love to explore it, but neither I nor they are capable of doing so. I hope that the Minister will help the House, help me and, more important, help my dairy farmers by explaining whether the UK is actually going to be able to decouple those payments and, if so, at what date, and how that will relate to the phasing out of quotas and/or the enlargement of quotas in the UK.

To return to the point that I was making about farmers who were unlucky enough to buy late in the process, no one in West Dorset who is currently planning investment in the dairy industry, whether it be replacement or new investment, can, given the confusion that reigns in the industry, possibly make a rational investment decision. Early information about what is going to happen is obviously critical if rational investment decisions are to be made.

Finally, will the Minister tell us his understanding of what has been settled for the long term? Farmers in West Dorset are, if anything, long-termists. I suspect that they are by no means unique in that. Were they interested in short-term profit, they would not be in farming today. They look to the long term. Many of them are in farming because many members of their family before them were in farming. Many of them remain in farming in the hope that their children might be persuaded to go into farming. Many of them are willing, as they have been for the past several years, to take what are, in effect, wages that are way below the national minimum wage, or returns that are way below the cost of capital. They live what is almost a subsistence existence in the hope of long-term salvation.

It is thus of great importance that farmers should see clearly where the Minister thinks the future lies. Are they to assume that the current semi-settlement, in relation not only to the decoupling, lack of decoupling or partial decoupling of dairy payments but also to the similar questions on arable and single farm payments and on the whole range of agricultural production, is the first step on the way to a genuine decoupling and genuinely open markets; or are they to assume that this is broadly as good as they will get for the next decade or two? It will be important to my farmers to know, in general, and to the extent that the Minister can tell us, the answer.

If the answer to that question is genuinely uncertain, many farmers will be bound to take a pessimistic view and disinvest. If the answer is that there is cause for optimism in the long term, many of them may sustain for a period what may be difficult times ahead, in the hope of realising that better future. I hope, therefore, that the Minister will be able to give us some guidance and that, in the light of that guidance, my farmers will be able to make rational decisions.

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