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Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, if the noble Earl will hang on a minute I shall try to say a little about the Government's commitment to agriculture. The Government recognise that agriculture is going through a difficult time at present. This is due to a number of factors such as the strength of the pound; the collapse of export markets in Asia and Russia; perhaps the expansion of supply, particularly in the case of pigs, in the profitable years of the mid-1990s; and a worldwide cyclical fall in agricultural commodity prices. Successive Ministers of Agriculture, my right honourable friends, have succeeded in injecting new funds, particularly to help the hard pressed ruminant livestock sectors and to improve agricultural marketing.
The Government do not for a moment fail to recognise the problems in agriculture and will continue to work with the industry to try to find a way through what is a difficult situation. I assure noble Lords that we take the current difficulties in agriculture extremely seriously. The new approach to agriculture which we are developing depends on reforming the common agricultural policy. The UK has pressed hard for a more economically rational CAP that brings prices nearer to world levels so that our farmers can be competitive in world markets free from World Trade Organisation restraints.
The reforms agreed under Agenda 2000 are an important step in that direction. The way in which we implement the options available in Agenda 2000 will have an important influence on the future direction of agriculture in this country. That is why we have consulted on where this Government see the priorities. As many of your Lordships have indicated, the rural development legislation is an important aspect. It provides a framework to integrate environmental aspects into a competitive agriculture through agri-environment schemes such as organic farming, through diversification and through support in less favoured areas. That forms a significant part of our recent consultation. A significant aid package has been announced. The industry is being relieved of £90 million in charges, and aid to hill farmers is £60 million higher than planned. That is a substantial improvement.
The noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie, mentioned many figures. I shall certainly write to him on the matter. I am sure that there is much truth in them. They were confirmed by the noble Lord, Lord Lyell. I shall make sure that my right honourable friend the Minister for Agriculture sees Hansard tomorrow and that he is made aware of the very many concerns raised in the debate.
A number of other specific questions were asked as regards agriculture. Unfortunately, I do not have time now to deal with them. I shall write to the noble Lord, Lord Monro of Langholm, about some of the
As to GM crops, the Government are not running scared on the issues raised here. The trials will continue; we shall not be swayed by the rather overheated debate that takes place on both sides of the argument. We shall certainly work closely with GM producers to ensure scientific advance and food safety. We recognise also the long-term issues surrounding biodiversity.
Unfortunately, I have run out of time. I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Hardy of Wath. He said it all in the comments that he made about the amendment moved by the Opposition. I do not wish to say any more than he did.
Baroness Byford: My Lords, before the noble Baroness sits down, may I, on behalf of these Benches, thank her for attempting to cover agriculture matters at the end of her reply. The only problem we have is that her reply took 30 minutes and she spent only seven minutes dealing with agriculture. As she quite rightly said, she could not spend longer on it. However, that highlights what the farming community feels: that the Government do not understand. The Minister said that she was surprised by the reaction of my two noble colleagues to the question of diversity and access to the countryside and the view that it will cause a problem. That is one of the real issues. The farming community feels that the Government do not understand.
The Chairman of Committees acquainted the House that, pursuant to the resolution of 2 November, the Bill had been deposited in the Office of the Clerk of the Parliaments together with the declaration of the agent; the Bill was presented, read a first time, passed through all its remaining stages pro forma and sent to the Commons.
The Chairman of Committees acquainted the House that, pursuant to the resolution of 28 October, the Bill had been deposited in the Office of the Clerk of the Parliaments together with the declaration of the agent; the Bill was presented, read a first time, passed through all its remaining stages pro forma and sent to the Commons.
The Chairman of Committees acquainted the House that, pursuant to the resolutions of 5 November, the Bills had been deposited in the Office of the Clerk of the Parliaments together with the declarations of the
The Chairman of Committees acquainted the House that, pursuant to the resolutions of 4 November, the Bills had been deposited in the Office of the Clerk of the Parliaments together with the declarations of the agents; the Bills were presented, read a first time, read a second time pro forma and reported from the Unopposed Bill Committees.
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