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The Minister for Rural Affairs and Local Environmental Quality (Alun Michael): The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs funds a substantial research and development programme that is of benefit to fruit farmers. Growers are also eligible for assistance under the England rural development programme.
Hugh Robertson: The Minister will be aware that fruit farmers are feeling the squeeze at the moment. Supermarkets are bearing down on them, which is affecting their income, while at the same time the Agricultural Wages Board has awarded a series of above-inflation wage increases. Given that we now have a national minimum wage, why does agriculture, and agriculture alone, still have a wages board?
Alun Michael: It has been the view of successive Ministers and Departments that the Agricultural Wages Board should continue. There are many differences between agriculture and horticulture. Horticulture has never had the distorting subsidies that agriculture has had. We contribute to the industry as a whole through the research programme, worth some £2.5 million this year. We want the industry to continue to be a success.
You will recall, Mr. Speaker, that in the last oral questions to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs on 21 October, the Under-Secretary of State, the hon. Member for Exeter (Mr. Bradshaw), said, in reference to the foot and mouth video of Burnside farm,
Both Ministers cannot be right. Would it be in order for the Under-Secretary of State to explain why Ministers disagree in explaining what increasingly looks like a cover-up, and to apologise forno doubt inadvertentlymisleading the House?
I think that Mr. Letwin may be a little thinner than I am, Mr. Speaker. My point of order has to do with the amendments tabled by the Minister for Rural Affairs and Local Environmental Quality and his Parliamentary Private Secretary, in lieu of the Lords
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amendments passed last night. The new proposals were made available in the Vote Office at 12.5 pmthat is, 25 minutes ago. They raise issues that hon. Members of all parties may wish to consider. In those circumstances, would you be prepared to suspend the sitting for a short period, so that hon. Members can familiarise themselves with the new proposals, which are very different from what has gone before?
Hugh Robertson (Faversham and Mid-Kent) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. You will be aware of the very serious events last night in the Bernabéu stadium, which followed similar incidents in the England under-21 international
Mr. Peter Luff (Mid-Worcestershire) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. This is a genuine point of order. [Hon. Members: "Oh!"] It follows on from the point raised my hon. Friend the shadow Leader of the House. That, too, was a genuine point of order, as was, I am sure, the one raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Faversham and Mid-Kent (Hugh Robertson). Will you confirm that it would be in order, in principle, to table manuscript amendments to these very late Government motions? The new proposals mean that those of us who wish to oppose a ban on hunting face difficult decisions. If there is to be a ban, we would want it to be extended for the maximum period before implementation. Are manuscript amendments acceptable in principle? Will you explain how we can submit such amendments if we are to move immediately to the business in hand?
Mr. Paul Goodman (Wycombe) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Yesterday, Doug Smith, chief executive of the Child Support Agency, resigned. Earlier that day, he told the Select Committee on Work and Pensions that the CSA has no contingency plan if the computer system proves to be beyond repair. Have you had any notice from the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions that he intends to come to the House today to explain what the Government's plans now are? We all have constituents who are not getting money because the CSA system does not work and the Government are ultimately responsible for the shambles.
Further to my point of order, Mr. Speaker. You have decided that the House must go ahead immediately with the Hunting Bill, but can you give any guidance for the future on the amount of time that the Government should allow hon. Members when amendments in lieu are tabled? Twenty-five minutes are
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not enough. Although I fully understand and accept your decision and the reasons for it, some guidance for the future would be most welcome.
Mr. Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Some of those present have been Members of Parliament for a considerable number of years but have never seen the Parliament Act invoked[Hon Members: "Yes, we have."] There are new Members who have not seen it. I ask for some explanation of the Speaker's role in the Parliament Act.
Mr. Speaker: Old Members and new Members can always go to the Libraryit is very conveniently placed only a few yards away and I often use it. It is nice of the hon. Gentleman to make that request on behalf of Members, but that is why the Library exists. It is very useful.
Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Are you prepared to consider a manuscript amendment that would allow two votes, one on the first part of amendment a and another on the second?
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