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The noble Lords, Lord Dykes and Lord Howell, and others, have raised the issue of settlements and described as a clear breach of international law the approval by Israel's Interior Ministry of 1,600 new homes in east Jerusalem. Secretary of State Clinton has said that the plans should be shelved, that new provocations should be avoided and that there should be agreement to talk about the core issues, such as Jerusalem, in the planned proximity talks.

I can assure the noble Lord, Lord Ahmed, that we are absolutely clear on settlements. Settlement activity is illegal, prejudices peace talks and must be halted immediately anywhere in the Occupied Territories. In east Jerusalem it presents an even greater threat to the prospect of peace, as many noble Lords have said. Noble Lords will have seen the Foreign Secretary's condemnation of the Israeli announcement of more building in Jerusalem as,

Moreover, Israel's decision to add two holy sites in the occupied West Bank to a list of heritage sites is deeply worrying. We are making representations in private as well as in public on these issues and I can

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assure noble Lords that we are utterly unambiguous. I can reassure noble Lords that we are looking at the practical steps we can take to discourage settlement expansion, such as ensuring that goods from settlements do not benefit from EU trading agreements with Israel.

Much of the public debate has focused on settlements, but I want to reassure the House that while they are the gravest threat to negotiations and to a future Palestinian state, they are far from being the limits of our concern. I can confirm that on a range of issues-from the route of the barrier, to the operation of military courts, to the operation of the permit system which gives Palestinians the right to visit or live in east Jerusalem-we are active and we are vocal. I encourage noble Lords to read the 2009 FCO annual report on human rights, published last month, which sets out our principal concerns and actions. On detention practices, I say to the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, that we have called on the Israeli Government to take immediate action to ensure that all cases are reviewed by a court in accordance with fair procedures and that their rights are upheld, particularly the rights to a fair trial and to family visits.

On Gaza, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Steel, for his continuing interest and engagement on these issues. The Fourth Geneva Convention is clear that an occupying power must co-operate in allowing the passage and distribution of relief consignments. We argue that strict border restrictions limit the flow of legitimate aid, reconstruction materials, trade, goods and people. Approximately 90 per cent of Gazans depend partly on food aid. In December, the European Council of Foreign Ministers said that the continued policy of closure is unacceptable and politically counterproductive.

The UK provides practical support to the people of Gaza, and we do so also, of course, as an EU member state. The funds provided to support the Palestinian Authority and the UN refugee agency pay salaries and provide essential services in Gaza as well as in the West Bank. DfID has committed more than £24 million to alleviating the humanitarian crisis in Gaza since the conflict, and has given £5 million to the UN relief agency to strengthen the education programmes that are designed to combat radicalisation among vulnerable young Gazan people.

As I am sure noble Lords will agree, the recent violence in Gaza is a stark reminder of the need for direct negotiations between the parties. We continue to talk on all sides to refrain from violence and to refrain from provocation or efforts to distract the process at this crucial moment-which is indeed a moment of opportunity.

As for the past incidents of violence, we have been consistent in our calls for parties to hold full, credible and independent investigations into the very serious allegations about their conduct. We will continue carefully to monitor the progress of investigations by Israel and by the Palestinian Authority. The call has to be for all parties to take clear and unequivocal action in order to end this terrible conflict.

The Palestinian Authority has recognised this and has made progress in recent years. Under the leadership of President Abbas and Prime Minister Fayyad and with international assistance, the authority has turned

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a notoriously corrupt Administration into one of the most financially transparent in the region. The Palestinian Authority has built more professional security forces and has taken decisive action to tackle abuses. It remains firmly opposed to violence and firmly committed to credible negotiations. However, on a number of fronts, we need to see further progress; for instance, on the rule of law and on further financial reforms. There are plans to do so, but we should recognise how far it has come.

Just as a more effective Palestinian Authority is part of the solution to the conflict, Hamas remains part of the problem. In refusing to unequivocally renounce violence, recognise Israel and accept previous agreements, it places itself firmly in the wrong. I say to the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, that holding Gilad Shalit for over three years without contact with his family or access from the Red Cross is clearly wrong and makes peace building more difficult. He should be released immediately and unconditionally.

I reassure noble Lords that the Foreign Secretary speaks regularly to his Arab counterparts and urges them to make the case for talks and to make the compromises that will be necessary. The noble Lord, Lord Hannay, raised the question of the Israeli barrier. The current route of the barrier seriously undermines the territorial contiguity of the West Bank and reduces the viability of a future Palestinian state. The noble Lord also talked about boycotts and sanctions. We do not believe that boycotts will help to engage or influence Israel, but we agree that we should instead use more diplomatic tools-

Lord Hannay of Chiswick: I did not raise boycotts or sanctions. I said that we should take political and diplomatic action. I think the noble Baroness is coming on to that point. I want to be clear that I do not believe in threatening sanctions that we will not apply. We have to bring home to the Israeli Government-the Government, not the Israeli people-that the present path they are on is getting nowhere.

Baroness Kinnock of Holyhead: I thank the noble Lord for that clarification. I agree that we should use diplomatic tools as our first priority. He raised the issue of whether we can make progress with the current Netanyahu Government. The Prime Minister has said that he is ready to enter proximity talks and to work towards a peace deal. We continue to call on all sides to refrain from provocation or efforts to disrupt the peace process. This means that the Palestinians and the Israelis, by their actions as well as their words, should continue to work towards that peace process.

I welcome my noble friend Lord Haskel's welcome for my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary's sensible route. I agree that Israel is a strategic partner for the UK, and we are determined to maintain and develop our ties. We also recognise the rights of the Israeli Government to protect their people, but they should do so in line with international law.

The Government have made, and are willing to continue to make, representations to the Government of Israel regarding their responsibility. We will continue

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to press the Palestinians to meet their responsibilities, and we will continue to make clear to all parties in the region that they must do everything in their power to refrain from provocative acts and to support the peace process.

This conflict has defied resolution for decades, as the noble Lord, Lord Howell, intimated. Both sides can legitimately cite history in their cause. The Government will continue to support efforts to reach a lasting peace. That means that the Palestinians and the Israelis must show that they are serious about proximity talks moving swiftly from process to direct negotiations that will ultimately address the substantive issues dividing the parties. We will continue to work towards that lasting peace.

Agriculture: British Pig Industry

Question for Short Debate

8.49 pm

Tabled by Lord Palmer

Lord Palmer: My Lords, I am grateful for having been given this slot on such an historic day and, indeed, for the very impressive list of speakers. I am especially grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Davies, who I know has already had a very busy day.

I declare an interest as a farmer, some of whose produce ends up in the pig supply chain. I do not raise pigs, although my father used to include pig farming as one of his recreations in his Who's Who entry. One of my earliest memories is of herding pigs; indeed, my wife has a picture in her bedroom of me doing so. I also remember-this still haunts me to this day-taking pigs to market. The trailer became detached from the vehicle that was pulling it.

Between 1997 and 2007, the size of the UK pig herd fell by 40 per cent. For every 10 pigs that we had in 1999, there are just six today. As well as having higher animal welfare standards than most of our competitors, British pig farmers have never received assistance from the common agricultural policy. The higher production costs that arise from higher welfare standards here were compounded by the rise in feed prices during 2007 and 2008. Prices have been relatively more stable in the past two years, but many pig farmers still struggle to repay the debts that were incurred during the very dark days of 2007 and 2008.

The industry, the Government and the rest of the supply chain must work together to ensure that we deliver the recommendation in Defra's report on the British pig industry, which was published earlier this year, that the price that is paid to farmers properly reflects production costs and that labels are made clearer to show the country of origin and animal welfare and assurance standards. I strongly believe that the whole issue of food security is becoming ever more important.

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The public sector food procurement initiative, which is otherwise known as the PSFPI, was launched in 2003 and aims to deliver a world-class, sustainable farming and food sector that contributes to a better environment and to healthier and more prosperous communities. It is a cross-departmental strategy that is led by Defra and intended to serve as guidance to all public bodies. Public sector food procurement in England accounts for spending of more than £2 billion each year on the food supply and catering services, and the PSFPI was established by the Government to harness this spending power and to advance certain priority objectives, which are set out in the Defra publication. These include: promoting animal welfare; promoting food safety, including high standards of hygiene; increasing the consumption of healthy and nutritious food; improving sustainability and the efficiency of production, processing and distribution; increasing tenders from small and local producers and their ability to trade; and increasing co-operation among buyers and suppliers and along the entire supply chain.

There is, by and large, broad public support for these objectives, including for local sourcing, for animal welfare and for quality and healthy food. In our changing food culture, this is only likely to increase to the point that consumers and public sector staff expect best-practice sourcing as a basic minimum for the food that they eat. Defra leads on this across government departments, and government figures show that a large proportion of publicly procured ham and bacon might not be produced to the animal welfare standards equivalent to those in the United Kingdom.

It is important that we build awareness of the high animal welfare standards that the United Kingdom deploys for pigs. Public bodies should also be made aware that, by importing pork or bacon without specifying welfare standards, they might be inadvertently supporting production that would be illegal in this country. Public bodies cannot discriminate in favour of domestic producers, as that is illegal under the European Union treaty and procurement directives. The Office of Government Commerce has produced a set of guidance notes to assist government departments and public sector organisations with this very task. The recent progress made by some departments in sustainable sourcing supports recommendations made by the Efra Select Committee that all government departments and public sector organisations should be encouraged to buy pigmeat raised to equivalent welfare standards to those in the United Kingdom.

The Government, sadly, are failing to support the United Kingdom industry when it comes to public procurement of pigmeat-as indeed is this House, as we heard from the chairman of the Refreshment Department only recently. Bacon is still woefully low, at only 36 per cent, while pork has seen a very sharp fall in the last year.

Clear, on-pack, country-of-origin labelling for pork and pork products is more than simply a matter of good housekeeping. With many retailers using imported pigmeat for a high proportion of the pork and pork products that they sell, it is vital that consumers are provided with the information that they need to make informed purchasing decisions. This is especially so as

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they would be shocked to hear that almost 70 per cent of imported pigmeat would be illegal had it been produced in this country. Furthermore, although much imported pigmeat would be illegal to produce in the UK, labelling rules still allow pigs reared and slaughtered in lower-welfare conditions in other countries, but processed here, to be labelled as British. Competition from these lower-welfare, lower-cost imports have made a major contribution to the 40 per cent decline in the UK breeding herd in the last 10 years.

Currently, EU pig producers are disadvantaged by being unable to use lower-cost GM soya in feed. With pressure on the cost of feed, the EU is considering amending its rules to allow its inclusion but, until this is achieved, pig producers will be burdened with much higher costs. Alternative sources of protein are already being considered, which would be capable of replacing soya, but at present they are proving not to be any more cost-effective. If barley prices had kept pace with inflation over the last 25 years, barley would be trading at around £200 a tonne, rather than exactly what it was 25 years ago. Had that happened, we would not have a pig industry in this country at all-a very frightening thought.

The closed periods for slurry applications to land mean that farmers have to store their slurries for at least a 20-week period. This is idiotic and will lead to some farmers leaving livestock farming altogether, as they simply cannot afford the capital outlay of slurry storage with no return. It is illogical, given that there are periods during the closed period that are normally dry and mild, when slurries could be so easily applied. It is also illogical as it means that a mass of slurry is applied on the first open day after a closed period. That creates a huge risk of pollution. These regulations take good farming practice decisions out of the hands of farmers, who are, after all, intelligent and skilled practitioners in what they do.

On some farms, slurry is pumped from pig units to an anaerobic digestion plant where it is combined with other waste from the food chain to produce renewable energy and biofertiliser. These types of plants are increasingly seen as one of the ways in which to help British farming to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. I hope that Her Majesty's Government will take this type of project on board and will listen to some of the points that I have tried to highlight tonight.

9 pm

Baroness Byford: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Palmer, for giving us the opportunity of this debate, which perhaps will be the last before we formally go into wash-up tomorrow. Like the noble Lord, I should declare our family farming interests. We used to run 120 breeding sows, which in my father-in-law's time went to Wall's and in later days went to Waitrose. We have known the pigs from birth through to where they end up for consumers to buy.

The noble Lord, Lord Palmer, rightly gave the figures of the alarming drop in the production of pigs in this country. It is frightening and, from a long-term viewpoint, is worrying as well. I appreciate that today we have to compete in a global market. Therefore, to a certain extent we are driven by global prices both

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when we sell and when we buy in terms of our input costs. Over this, we and the Government have little control. I am very proud of our quality UK pig meat production, which, as the noble Lord has indicated, receives no financial assistance from the Government. It has been very proud to be independent and to run its own affairs.

The noble Lord, Lord Palmer, referred to the failure of the House of Lords to take on enough British bacon and pork. When one goes to the canteen, which I certainly will not mention, sausages are high on the list of what noble Lords eat. I hope that a big proportion of those, if not all of them, are British. I should be interested to hear what the Minister has to say on that.

I have put my thoughts into a number of sections: the first is the size of the sow herd; the second is consumer choice, particularly with regard to labelling; the third is regulations; and the fourth is public procurement and encouragement. Finally, in response to the question asked by the noble Lord, I will turn to what action the Government have taken in response to all that.

As the noble Lord, Lord Palmer, said, herd sizes are down dramatically. In 1990, there were 12,600, which went down to a mere 6,000 by 2003. The number of breeding sows reduced dramatically from 800,000 to 475,000 by 2003. In 2009, that was not much better at 440,000.

Why should that matter? The reduction in the quality breeding stock from what it was to what it is now is hugely worrying in maintaining good blood lines, let alone the basic numbers of pigs necessary for the industry. Global prices for pigs and pig meat slumped dramatically in 2007 and again, particularly, in 2008, which was after a not very good beginning even before that. Even the most efficient UK producers in those years lost money and many had to decide whether they would remain in or exit the industry. I have to tell the Minister that sadly we lost quite a few good, economical, commercial producers who said that they could not weather the storm, which they said was one stage too far.

On consumer choice, whoever we are dealing with tells us that it is all up to the consumer. But the consumers need to know where they are going. The noble Lord, Lord Palmer, implied that in his comments, and at the top of my list is clear labelling. When a person goes to buy something, they need to know what product they are buying, where it is from and, I hope, the country of origin. For me it is a matter of regret that two, if not three, Private Members' Bills started in the House of Commons by Conservative Members on the whole question of labelling and country of origin have been thwarted by the Government. They either talked them out or did not want to take the issue on board. I have to say to the noble Lord, Lord Davies, that that was a great mistake.

The correct labelling of country of origin would enable people to judge for themselves. I am not someone who says that people must buy British because we are in a global market, but they should at least be able to recognise from the label on a product where the meat was originally produced. Identification is hugely

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important, and I know that recently the European Union has come forward with some thoughts on the issue. When he responds, can the Minister bring us up to date on what is happening with labelling in Europe because I know that the issue has been raised?

I am old-fashioned, but I worry that a commodity that has been produced abroad but brought into this country for processing or having value added to it in any way can then carry UK authority on it. That is not right. It was not right originally, it is not right today and it will not be right tomorrow. Let us hope that a new Government-it is a commitment of the Conservative Party-will tackle the whole question of labelling. As I say, I do not contend that we must buy British, but for goodness sake we must be allowed correct labelling so that we know the country of origin, whether or not something has been further processed here in the UK.

Quality Standard Mark pork labelling offers a good steer for people when they buy their meat. Indeed, over recent years we have seen producers gaining ground if they promote local issues. When we were in Southwold earlier in the year, I was delighted to note that one of the local restaurants clearly identified where all its food came from. The menu said, "Pork-two miles up the road", and so on. Again, it is important that people are offered some identification. However, I would suggest to the noble Lord that catering is another issue altogether.

I move on to regulations. Cross-compliance on farm inspections and the overlap we see on these inspections really needs to be reviewed. In addition we have seen the IPPC rules and regulations come in, along with the waste and nitrates directives. A lot is coming through for farmers to cope with. I am not against regulation, but it should be relevant, proportionate and subject to review. On the cost of IPPC implementation for UK farmers, can the Minister tell us what has happened to, say, farmers in Denmark?

I should like also to raise the whole question of building improvements. The Minister will know that it used to be possible to get an agricultural buildings allowance which in 2007 his Government decided to do away with. The allowance will expire in 2011. This has made a big difference to people because they would have invested in and improved their buildings in the future. I am surprised that the Government have not responded by changing their minds about this.

I turn briefly to public procurement, and here I think that the Government's record is woeful. On 4 February 2009 the noble Lord, Lord Hoyle, asked a Question that was responded to by the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, which recorded that only 25 per cent of all bacon was British, a percentage that has risen to only 29 per cent. Pork of British origin stood at 65 per cent and has now risen to 74 per cent. The figures are appalling, and are particularly worrying as regards bacon and ham. The 2007 BPEX annual report on imports stated that 70 per cent of pigmeat imported from the EU, not from other countries, would not be allowed to be produced in the way it is by UK producers. We trade globally, but surely we should be able to trade fairly. The situation we find ourselves in today is unacceptable.

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I turn now to the sixth point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Palmer. He asked what the Government are doing. I believe that they could do better on public procurement; that they should have brought forward instead of ditching and in fact opposing legislation on labelling; that our regulations should be relevant and proportionate; and that businesses should be free to do what they can do best. I would like to see the reinstatement of the agricultural building allowance scheme. Lastly, as mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Palmer, because there is not time to go into detail, as regards the use of GM crops in this country, our farmers have extra costs not having them.

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