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House of Lords

Thursday, 19th December 2002.

The House met at eleven of the clock: The CHAIRMAN OF COMMITTEES on the Woolsack.

Prayers—Read by the Lord Bishop of Chester.

Temperate Food: Balance of Trade

Lord Carter asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they consider that the balance of trade in temperate food matters.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, the Government's aim is to promote sustainable and competitive farming and food manufacturing industries which produce safe and attractive products that consumers both at home and abroad want to purchase, but we have to recognise that we live in an increasingly globalised world. The Strategy for Sustainable Farming and Food for England, published on 12th December, sets out how the Government will work with industry, rural and environmental organisations and consumers to help to achieve those objectives.

Lord Carter: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that Answer. Is she aware that over the past 10 years UK self-sufficiency in food that we can grow here has fallen by 14 per cent and that in the same period the deficit in trade on our temperate food has doubled from 2.6 billion to 5.3 billion? Are the Government satisfied with that situation?

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, we believe that the food and farming industries need to improve their productivity and efficiency if they are to compete successfully in domestic and international markets. The Government cannot subsidise the industry in order to achieve particular levels of self-sufficiency or exports. In an increasingly globalised world the pursuit of self-sufficiency for its own end would be neither necessary nor appropriate.

Lord Greaves: My Lords, if food security matters in this modern world, is it not the home market and the home territory that matter and not Europe which, unlike this country, has a food surplus? If food security concerns are important, are not petroleum substitution crops—biofuels—likely to be more important in the future than food crops?

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, I accept the importance of the crops that the noble Lord mentioned. They offer farmers a new form of generating income. DEFRA is discussing with stakeholders the establishment of a new centre of excellence for non-food

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crops in the UK. A government/industry forum is addressing that matter. It is extremely important to recognise the contribution that energy crops can make.

Lord Dixon-Smith: My Lords, I understand the noble Baroness's response in regard to subsidies, but is not the Government's attitude almost dangerously complacent in view of the fact that the deficit on temperate foods is part of a much wider and widening general trade deficit which is leading some people in some places to look with somewhat critical eyes at this country's credit rating?

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, the claim that the Government are complacent on this issue is insupportable. The Strategy for Sustainable Farming and Food sets out in detail the ways that we seek to tackle the sector we are discussing within the total economy. The strategy provides more money for marketing, processing and development and offers help as regards training and advice for farmers. It also rewards farmers for providing environmental goods. It is a new strategy. We work with all sectors of the industry. There is a general problem with regard to the import/export imbalance. DEFRA is working with the industry to try to overcome that deficit.

Baroness O'Cathain: My Lords, I am sure that the whole House will wish to congratulate the Government on producing a new strategy. However, we must ensure that farmers are aware of that. At the moment our farmers are saying that it is all very well for them to produce temperate food but they are not competing on a level playing field with other countries, even within Europe. For example, what subsidy do tomato growers in the Netherlands receive? What are the Government doing in Brussels about that matter to try to ensure that there is fairness, at least within the European market?

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, the Government and DEFRA are committed to ensuring that our farming industry competes with others on a totally level playing field. I am not able to comment in detail on whether there is a subsidy to tomato growers in a particular country. However, I shall write to the noble Baroness on that matter. We believe that the work we are doing is contributing to making our produce extremely competitive. We are permanently on our guard to protect the interests of our industry both within the European Union and in the wider context.

Lord Livsey of Talgarth: My Lords, does the noble Baroness agree that productivity is not the problem—the productivity of UK agriculture is excellent—the problem is that our agriculture is not profitable? The single most important factor in this regard—I hope that it can be implemented in 2003—is successfully to negotiate entry into the euro. That would result in far higher profitability for UK farming and would ensure a radical improvement in the present deficit on trade.

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Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, as the noble Lord is aware, during the course of the coming 12 months the Government will seek to establish whether entry to the euro would be appropriate for the UK. Many in the food production and farming industries, particularly those involved in agriculture, share the noble Lord's view.

Lord Tomlinson: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that perhaps the best way of getting a level playing field on which we can compete is to put much greater political effort into a root and branch change in the structure of the common agricultural policy? That is fundamentally necessary if we are to meet the obligations that we all so readily applauded after the Doha conference.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, my noble friend Lord Tomlinson is absolutely right. We are committed to reform of the common agricultural policy, and have argued that within Europe and with our partners in Europe. Commissioner Fischler presented a new draft EU modalities paper that considered all the areas, including a commitment to zero duty for 50 per cent total imports from developing countries. The work that we do to change all that is wrong with the common agricultural policy has to be seen in the context of our commitment to developing countries, and our policy of seeking not to do anything to damage the interests of developing countries, as my noble friend recognised.

Remand in Custody

11.13 a.m.

Lord Corbett of Castle Vale asked Her Majesty's Government:

What proportion of (a) men and (b) women remanded in custody are subsequently imprisoned.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, an estimate based on information held on the Home Office court proceedings database is that 48 per cent of men and 36 per cent of women who were remanded in custody at some point in their case were sentenced to immediate custody. The figures are for the year 2000.

There may be cases when a custodial sentence is not passed because the courts take into account the period of time that the defendant has spent on remand. Some of those sentenced to immediate custody will not in fact be returned to prison, because the sentence imposed has already been served on remand in custody.

Lord Corbett of Castle Vale: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that response. Will he confirm that the number of prisoners on remand rose by 12 per cent to just over 13,000 in the 12 months to last October? Will he encourage the National Probation Service to redouble its efforts to persuade courts to make more use of the wide

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range of non-custodial sentences for non-violent crime, so that we stand a better chance of reducing the prison population and minimising the risk of reoffending?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, the figures that I have are a remand population of 12,811, which is 8 per cent more than a year ago. Clearly, however, we are not that far off. It is important that we should avoid remanding prisoners in custody when the offences of which they are accused would not merit custodial sentences.

Baroness Anelay of St Johns: My Lords, while I recognise that the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, is multi-tasked in this House and is well revered for being able to cover just about every subject, I am somewhat disappointed that a Home Office Minister is not here to answer this Question. Are the Government concerned about the Home Office's recent research under Section 95 of the Criminal Justice Act 1991, which shows that recent figures on prison sentences for women suggest that such figures are driven by a severe response to less serious offences? The rate of increase in women being given a custodial sentence at magistrates' courts is now higher than in Crown courts. If the Government are concerned, what do they propose to do about it?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I apologise on behalf of the Home Office Ministers. My noble and learned friend Lord Falconer, who was due to answer this Question, must have been under the impression that Questions would be taken at three o'clock. I apologise on his behalf, because that is clearly not satisfactory.

I hear what the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, says about the research on custodial sentences for women. That is one of the issues that will be considered when we debate the Criminal Justice Bill. The Bill provides for a range of tough but flexible options, including intermittent custody, which would be particularly appropriate for women who might otherwise be in full-time custody resulting in huge damage to their families.

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