HC Deb 19 June 1997 vol 296 cc468-513

[Relevant documents: European Community Documents Nos. 9550/96, relating to a support system for producers of arable crops, 9876/96, relating to ewe and suckler cow premium schemes, 5617/97, relating to the Court of Auditors Special Report No. 1/97, and 6112/97, relating to agri-monetary adjustment.]

Madam Speaker

I have selected the amendment in the name of the Leader of the Opposition.

4.7 pm

The Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Dr. John Cunningham)

I beg to move, That this House takes note of European Community Document No. 6627/97, relating to agricultural prices for 1997–98; welcomes the Government's intention to negotiate an outcome which reflects the interests of United Kingdom consumers, taxpayers and food and farming industries; and welcomes the Government's longer term aim of securing reforms of the Common Agricultural Policy which reduce food prices, save money and provide more targeted support for the rural economy and enhance the rural environment. I welcome the opportunity to debate the common agricultural policy so early in this Parliament. It demonstrates the importance that this country, the Government and the House attach to agriculture. It also provides a chance for the House to scrutinise and to debate the European Commission's CAP price proposals for 1997–98. Those may be decided at next week's Agriculture Council meeting in Luxembourg.

The debate is primarily about agriculture policy, but first I should like to say a word about the wider aspects of agriculture and the new approach that we are taking at the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. Our farming and food industries are essential and dynamic sectors of our economy. I am delighted to have the opportunity to work with them and with farmers in my Copeland constituency. The safety and quality of food are vital issues that reach into every home. The Ministry has key tasks to perform on food safety, bovine spongiform encephalopathy, animal welfare, biodiversity and many others. Those are all important issues to which the Government attach a high priority.

We have, of course, inherited some difficult problems from the previous Administration. Some, if not all, of them are directly due to the decisions of previous Ministers and their approach to agriculture matters at both domestic and European level. Those problems will not be solved quickly or easily. However, it is clear that, through a constructive approach at European level, we have already made more progress in seven weeks than the previous Government did in as many years. Those deep-seated problems were never going to be solved by the previous Administration's approach. Their splits and divisions on Europe, as alive this afternoon as before the general election, made it impossible for Britain to play a full and constructive role. British consumers and farmers alike have suffered because of the Tory failures in Europe.

Mr. Patrick Nicholls (Teignbridge)

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for giving way so early in his speech. Does he accept that no one would seriously criticise him for not having come back from Amsterdam with a firm timetable for the lifting of the beef ban? However, to stand at the Dispatch Box, as he did earlier, and say that he has not even sought to reach an agreement on a timetable will suggest to the farming community that, apart from brave words, he simply does not care.

Dr. Cunningham:

I rather regret having given way to the hon. Gentleman. First, I was not at Amsterdam, so he was wrong about that. Secondly, I am actively seeking an agreement. He was also wrong to suggest that it would be sensible to seek a date, especially this early in a new Administration and with the manifest failures of the Conservative Government so fresh in our minds. In case the hon. Gentleman has forgotten what I said barely an hour ago, his Government promised to have the beef ban lifted by last November. They had not made enough progress to get it lifted by the time the British people rightly drove them out of office, for that and many other failures.

Sir Teddy Taylor (Rochford and Southend, East)

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Dr. Cunningham

No, I am not giving way for the moment.

By forgoing constructive partnerships throughout Europe, the Conservative Government made a difficult situation worse. I have begun to build coalitions and to make progress on issues close to the hearts of many British people. To give just one example, our initiative during the intergovernmental conference on animal welfare recognises animals as "sentient beings", and from now on that will be a feature of all European Union common agricultural policy legislation. It will ensure that European legislation takes account of this Government's desire to see the highest possible standards of animal welfare. We have also made some progress on fishing, as I reported to the House yesterday, and we are working urgently on the beef ban.

As well as a fresh approach in Europe, I have already announced my intention to reorganise the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food with a new mission statement, new name and new direction. I shall create an open, forward-looking Department, responsive to the needs of consumers and trusted to safeguard the health and well-being of the people and their environment. We are already making fundamental changes in the consumer interest, working towards the creation of an independent food standards agency. This is a Department that will look to the future, not the past.

I come now to the common agricultural policy price proposals. I shall say more about food safety in a moment. First, I want to speak about the CAP and the 1997–98 price proposals that are the main subject of today's motion.

The price support and aid rates set by the Agriculture Council each year under the CAP are a major determinant of farming activity in this country. This year's price proposals involve little change from the current position. Most price and aid levels are maintained. The main changes concern largely technical reductions in monthly increments in the cereals, rice and sugar sectors.

The Commission has reiterated its proposal from last year to reduce arable aids by an average of 7 per cent. It has argued that that is necessary to ensure that the budgetary limits are respected, especially in 1997. However, the position for this year has now eased considerably. I am disappointed that the Commission did not propose more radical changes in CAP support in this prices package. The CAP still absorbs some £30 billion of European taxpayers' money a year.

Next week, I shall be arguing in Luxembourg for the Council to adopt all the savings that the Commission has proposed. I particularly hope that the Council will take careful note of the over-compensation of arable farmers that has been highlighted by my Ministry and by the Commission, in Brussels. The over-compensation for the price cuts agreed in 1992 strengthens our case for reducing the arable aid rates. Even if the Council is not ready to adopt the cuts at that meeting, the issue of over-compensation will be important when we reform the cereals regime later this year. I am determined that the issue should remain on the agenda.

In recent years, the Commission has recognised the desirability of giving farmers an early indication of the set-aside rate that they will receive in the coming season, enabling them to plan their plantings in good time. I shall be pressing for that action at next week's Council. The set-aside rate should be as low as possible, and preferably no higher than this year's rate of 5 per cent. I also intend to urge the Commission to change the rules, so that set-aside can make a more effective environmental contribution.

Reform of the common agricultural policy is a major plank of the Government's European policy. The current common agricultural policy is highly unsatisfactory, because it costs a great deal, artificially raises food costs for consumers and burdens our farmers with bureaucracy and production controls. The policy is also highly susceptible to fraud. The CAP must be made more relevant to all our citizens—to consumers, farmers and taxpayers alike.

Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (Cotswold)

I apologise for missing the start of the right hon. Gentleman's speech, but activities elsewhere detained me. May I ask him—I have given him notice of the question—about the situation facing one of my constituents, who will be penalised to the tune of £35,000 for a simple administrative error that will not cost the Exchequer anything? When the Minister talks to the Commission about CAP reform, will he suggest the possibility of being a bit more flexible when genuine errors occur in EU schemes?

Dr. Cunningham

It is news to me that the hon. Gentleman gave me notice of that intervention, although he may have called the Ministry in my absence. He is referring to the case of Mr. G. J. Phillips and his Farm Partnership. That matter was dealt with in another place, on 12 June 1997, in a letter from the Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Donoughue. I have nothing to add to that reply.

As I said, the CAP must be made more relevant and responsive to all our citizens. The previous Administration sat back and allowed the status quo to continue for many years, and no one should have any illusions about their failure or—because of the position of isolation in Europe that we have inherited—about the difficulties of securing CAP reform. Reform will be a long and tortuous process. The new Government, however, are at least prepared to embark on reform, whereas the previous one did not even get the issues to the starting line.

Mr. Christopher Gill (Ludlow)

Will the Minister give way?

Dr. Cunningham

No; not at the moment.

I intend to work hard with my European partners to identify reforms to reduce the overall cost of the CAP. Reform will also enable the United Kingdom's efficient farming industry to exploit its national advantages in European and world markets. A move to a more market-oriented policy will be widely welcomed in the UK and will enable European farmers to compete more effectively in increasingly open world markets.

Crucially, reform will also assist entry into the EU of the central European countries that have applied for membership.

Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome)

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Dr. Cunningham

I am sorry, but I cannot give way at the moment. I must press on as this is a very short debate.

A first step towards achieving those goals will be the European Commission's Agenda 2000 papers, to be published next month. They will prepare the ground for the next enlargement of the European Union. A key element will be the Commission's analysis of the future of the CAP. The papers will examine the three most expensive CAP regimes—cereals, beef and dairy—as well as rural development policy. I want more and better targeted schemes to help the rural economy and the rural environment.

In the face of anticipated international trading pressures and EU enlargement, reform is inevitable. I am pressing the Agriculture Commissioner, Mr. Fischler, to follow up Agenda 2000 as quickly as possible with concrete proposals to the Council. I will also use my presidency of the Agriculture Council, which begins next January, to give those proposals a powerful impetus. It is important for the Council to put the reforms in place early so that all our farmers have ample time to prepare.

I should like briefly to mention two wider agricultural issues, which will be central to my Department's work in the coming months. They are the implementation of the James report on food standards and the problems of BSE.

I have already made clear my commitment to protect the interests of consumers and to introduce greater openness and transparency into the business of the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. The Government are building fundamentally new arrangements for handling food safety and standards. We are already making progress in taking forward our plans for the food standards agency based on the proposals put forward by Professor James, to whom I express the Government's thanks. I have made changes within MAFF to prepare for the creation of that new agency and established a new food standards and safety group to bring together many of its functions. The first phase of public consultation on Professor James's report on possible structures and the remit for the agency ends tomorrow. The Government's intention is to issue a White Paper in the autumn with a view to publishing a draft Bill as soon as possible thereafter.

There is little doubt that some of the events of recent years have massively reduced consumer confidence in the safety and standards of our food. There is no room for complacency by anyone, whether on farms, in food processing and preparation activities or, for that matter, in the Ministry itself. We shall insist on and enforce the highest standards in abattoirs and food processing. Industry and consumers alike called for an independent food standards agency, but the previous Government failed to respond, despite all the evidence. This work is being given the highest priority by my colleagues and myself, and we shall give every opportunity to the House and the people to discuss our proposals openly, to criticise and to propose changes where it is thought appropriate.

I should also like to give the House a brief update on the BSE situation following my statement last week on the question of removing the ban on British beef exports. Officials have held talks with the Commission about the criticisms that the Scientific Veterinary Committee has made of the proposals for a certified herds scheme, proposals made by the previous Administration, which we have sustained and supported. The Commission has offered some constructive advice and will clearly do what it can to help us make progress.

Our task is to consider urgently how best to respond to the scientific criticisms. Our aim is to table further proposals in Brussels, which I hope will stand a good chance of winning support, both from the scientific experts and from the Governments of the European Union. We are determined to sustain pressure for an early lifting of the export ban. That is in the interests of all beef producers across the United Kingdom, and I assure the House that it is and will remain at the top of our agenda.

Sir Teddy Taylor

Does the Minister agree that the serious problem that he is trying to face up to, as the previous Government did, would be easier to resolve if he and other Ministers in Europe were willing to look at the chronic problem of the blatant over-production of beef in Europe—it is increasing almost every week—and the reducing consumer market?

Dr. Cunningham

I am happy to agree with the hon. Gentleman that there is over-production, not just of beef, but of cereals and dairy products. The need for reform of the CAP in all those areas is staring us in the face. The economic realities of life will bear down on us sooner or later because of the requirements of the World Trade Organisation, the necessary changes for the enlargement of the European Union and simply because, if we continue as at present, we shall price ourselves out of the opportunity to get high-value European Union products into growing world markets. I agree that a fundamental restructuring of the production of beef, cereals and milk is essential to the success and economic well-being of our farmers.

Mr. David Heath

Does the Minister agree that a major structural reform of the CAP is an essential prerequisite of the enlargement of the European Union? Does he also agree that more progress on enlargement at the Amsterdam summit, where very little was achieved, would have served as a motor for the reforms that he is suggesting?

Dr. Cunningham

I endorse what the hon. Gentleman says about the need for reform. I have said it many times today. We are strong supporters of the enlargement of the European Union. We shall not do anything to hinder it. If the hon. Gentleman is disappointed about the lack of progress on enlargement at Amsterdam, he should direct his attention elsewhere in Europe to find the cause. He will not find it in the proposals or the attitudes of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and this Administration.

On 2 June, the Spongiform Encephalopathy Advisory Committee recommended that unless the Community introduced EU-wide measures on specified risk materials, we should take unilateral action against beef imports. It specifically recommended extending the UK's controls on sheep and goat materials to include those proposed by the Commission in 1996—the removal of the spleen from sheep and goats older than six months and of the spinal cord from sheep and goats older than one year. It also recommended that, in the absence of Community measures, we should apply our existing controls on specified bovine materials to imports.

I reconfirm to the House that that is our intention. I should much prefer the European Union to endorse the proposals that Commissioner Fischler, to his credit, has retabled. The proposals have the support of Mr. Van Aartsen, the current President of the Agriculture Council, whom I met for discussions on those issues again yesterday. I believe that they also have the support of the appropriate Committees in the European Parliament. It is for our European colleagues to take that wide-ranging advice and act on it. I hope that they will, but if they do not, I shall table the four orders that we have already drafted—they are in my office now—to ensure that beef and bovine products imported from countries where BSE exists are subject to the same rigorous health safeguards as British-produced beef.

Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham)

I back the right hon. Gentleman on that, but I have one qualification. He confined the proposed prohibition to countries in which BSE exists. Beef can travel within the European Union single market. The absence of confirmed cases in one country does not mean that beef or beef products from that country come from cattle free of BSE.

Dr. Cunningham

I am grateful to the right hon. and learned Gentleman for raising that important point. The orders that I intend to lay would make it an offence to import beef into this country from a country where BSE existed, but where the beef had not been subject to the same rigorous controls on the removal of specified risk materials. It will therefore be the responsibility of importers to ensure that the beef that they import is identified by country of origin and has been so treated. As the right hon. and learned Gentleman has raised an important question, I shall double-check with my officials to ensure that that is so.

As I said on 5 June, we are determined to ensure that any beef imported into the UK meets the very high standards that we have set our industry, and which, to their credit, our producers are ensuring are enforced. I should stress that measures proposed in respect of sheep are purely precautionary. There is no evidence at all that BSE occurs in the national flock, but, again, we are operating on the advice of SEAC on the safety-first principle.

The Government are also committed to action to ensure that BSE is eradicated completely. The number of new cases of BSE has fallen to about 100 a week compared with 1,000 a week at its height in 1993. The level is now at its lowest for eight years. As the House knows, there are independent forecasts that, taking into account maternal transmission, the disease in the UK will be close to extinction by 2001. However, those are forecasts and no more than that. We shall certainly do everything that we can in government to ensure that that becomes a reality—then, if not sooner.

There has been some speculation in the farming press that we might be considering relaxing the ban on the feeding of meat and bonemeal to pigs and poultry. Such action is out of the question. We have no intention of revoking the measures that were rightly introduced by the previous Administration, and we shall uphold them firmly and effectively.

I refer to the amendment tabled by the Opposition, which Madam Speaker has selected. [Interruption.]

Mr. Hilton Dawson (Lancaster and Wyre)

Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Dr. Cunningham

I am happy to do so.

Mr. Dawson

My right hon. Friend has made some serious commitments on dealing with the monstrously difficult and dangerous issue of BSE contamination. We must all be impressed by his determination to deal with the aspects that he has discussed.

One element that my right hon. Friend did not cover—I thought that he was going to touch on it, but he turned to the amendment—is what we shall do with material that is mainly in a rendered state and predominantly from animals culled under the over-30-months scheme, which is being stored in its hundreds of thousands of tonnes around the country. I should very much appreciate a word from my right hon. Friend on that. I am sure that he will agree that it is absolutely vital to deal with such material safely and effectively and to dispose of it once and for all in ways that do not threaten people's health and well-being, especially for those who live in areas surrounding animal rendering plants.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael J. Martin)

That was a good intervention, but perhaps the next one could be brief.

Dr. Cunningham

I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Lancaster and Wyre (Mr. Dawson).

Mr. Hogg

The right hon. Gentleman has found his brief.

Dr. Cunningham

I have now found the amendment, which I had temporarily misplaced. I do not need any briefing on the amendment. It does not merit briefing.

First, I happily respond to the important point raised by my hon. Friend. I can assure him that all processes, including novel ones, will need to satisfy statutory environmental requirements. The Intervention Board will let contracts only with companies that obtain the necessary statutory consents, which aim to ensure that waste is disposed of without endangering human health or harming the environment. As I have implied, that is a matter for the Intervention Board rather than for me as Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, but I assure the House that there is no intention of moving from those stringent requirements.

The amendment in the name of the Leader of the Opposition need detain the House only briefly. It is a piece of remarkable effrontery. To suggest that, after seven weeks in office, the Government should be criticised for not making sufficient progress in the lifting of the export ban, which is the result of the Conservative Government's ineptitude, can be described only as vacuous effrontery. [Interruption.] As I said, I do not need any briefing to deal with this piece of nonsense.

The amendment also suggests that we have not made enough progress on speeding up the selective cull. The previous Administration said that they would implement the selective cull. They delayed implementing it until March this year. That is the record. I well recall from recent exchanges Conservative Members expressing the view that they did not wish to be reminded of their Government's record. I can understand that. But one thing is sure: having had so many opportunities in office to deal with these things and having failed, Conservative Members should be the last people to table such amendments and to complain about the circumstances faced by our beef farmers, because the situation is all their responsibility.

Mr. Edward Garnier (Harborough)

The Minister will recall that last week, during his statement on UK beef exports, he referred to two telephone conversations that he had had with the two European Commissioners, as a result of which he felt hopeful. What precisely led him to be hopeful last week, which could inform today's debate?

Dr. Cunningham

Both Commissioners immediately agreed that their officials and MAFF officials should sit down to secure answers to the questions raised by the Scientific Veterinary Committee. It is important to draw the distinction that that was not a Commission decision but a committee of experts decision, which is a report to the Commission. The Commission says that it wants to help us to find answers to the questions raised by the Scientific Veterinary Committee. That is a helpful response. It might have said that it was not interested in answers to those questions because the scheme will now fail as a result of the report. But it did not say that, and that is what gave me some cause for hope. I do not want to exaggerate it, but, as I have said, we have been talking ever since and my officials have had talks in Brussels on that subject this week. We shall continue to work with the Commission in the hope that the certified herds scheme—the proposal, I emphasise, of the previous Administration—can be accepted and implemented in the United Kingdom. If we can achieve it, that will be a small but significant first step in the raising of the ban.

In conclusion, everyone involved in the agriculture and food industries must understand that high standards of food production, the health and confidence of consumers and the success of British agriculture are all inextricably linked. The Government are dedicated to ensuring the success of British agriculture and the highest quality and standards for our consumers and the environment. I am confident that the industry has the robustness, determination and skills to face the challenges positively and to come through them stronger and better able to compete. I commend the motion to the House.

4.39 pm
Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham)

I beg to move, to leave out from "1997–98" to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof: but notes that the Government has made no progress in lifting the export ban on United Kingdom beef and beef products; and urges that greater effort be made to speed up the selective cull now to meet the concerns raised by the EU Scientific Veterinary Committee over the implementation of the proposed Export Certified Herd Scheme and to consider alternative schemes which offer a real prospect of EU agreement to commence the lifting of the ban as soon as possible. This is but a three-hour debate, and you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, will wish me to be brief; I shall seek to oblige.

We have just heard the first substantive speech on agriculture that the new Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food has made from the Front Bench. It coincides with my last.

Dr. John Cunningham

The right hon. and learned Gentleman looks happy about it.

Mr. Hogg

I always look happy.

The right hon. Gentleman will find his period in office interesting. He will also find it frustrating: because of the nature of the common agricultural policy, most of the decisions for which he has nominal responsibility in this country are shaped and determined by the European Council.

I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will not be the last Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. I say that because I am aware that there are within the Labour party a number of policies which, if adopted, would spell the end of the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, and that would be a serious blow to the British farming industry. Therefore, for personal reasons—and for wider ones—I wish him well in his responsibilities.

The price proposals that are set out in the documents before the House are, as the right hon. Gentleman said, unremarkable. They are much as to be expected, in the context of the decisions that have been taken and the rather tight budgetary circumstances that exist. I have few comments to make on the price proposals.

I welcome what the right hon. Gentleman said about the set-aside rates for the planting season 1997–98: that it is important to obtain from the Council a clear sign of the proposed rate as soon as possible, because farmers need certainty. I have no difficulty with a rate of 5 per cent. or thereabouts.

When the right hon. Gentleman considers the price proposals, I hope that he will keep it in mind that 1997 is likely to be a difficult financial year for British farming. There are many reasons for that, but the revaluations will have a serious impact on profitability. Two points are worth making. First, as the House will recall, as a result of the decisions that I took when I was Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, most of the direct support payments will retain, for a time, their pre-revaluation value—that is important—but there is a possibility, I put it no higher than that, of making a compensation payment in respect of loss of income.

I made it plain, during the election and before, that I would press the European Union to establish a fund, although at that stage I was not able to give a commitment to make a payment from that fund. That is the right position to take. Indeed, it is the position that the right hon. Gentleman has taken in answer to questions.

Dr. John Cunningham

indicated assent.

Mr. Hogg

The right hon. Gentleman is nodding, so there is no point in hon. Members on the Government Benches laughing.

What will happen is that the National Farmers Union will make a claim at the back end of this year. The case for compensation, because of the extent and the number of revaluations, is now greater than it was at the beginning of the year, and therefore I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will give sympathetic consideration to what is said to him.

The right hon. Gentleman has outlined in brief form the case for reform of the common agricultural policy, and I wholly agree with what he said. To us in this country, the case for common agricultural policy reform appears overwhelming. The policy itself is indeed old-fashioned. It has created an economy that is tightly regulated, tightly controlled, featherbedded and extremely protectionist. It is expensive, yet it has not delivered higher living standards to many who make a living from fanning, or to many—perhaps even more important—who live in rural areas. It has had a profoundly prejudicial effect both on the environment and on food prices. It is also, as my hon. Friend the Member for Rochford and Southend, East (Sir T. Taylor) said earlier, deeply wasteful.

Moreover—this is a point that the right hon. Gentleman will focus on when he has been in the Agriculture Council for some time—the mechanisms for policy making are profoundly unsatisfactory. They are deeply intrusive into the way in which farmers and the food industry carry out their business. In truth, most of the those who sit around the Council table, and most of the people who advise those who do so, have but a very slight knowledge of the practical consequences of the policies on which they are asked to vote. The case for change is, for a variety of reasons, overwhelming.

The right hon. Gentleman said in broad terms that he is seeking a market-driven economy in which farmers produce what the market wants and at a price that the market is prepared to pay. I share his view. I make a further point. We should incorporate an agricultural policy into an overarching policy for the rural areas. Agriculture and agricultural policy is a critical element in any policy for rural areas. It is not to be underrated. [Interruption.] I shall explain why I did not do it in a moment. [HON. MEMBERS: "Ah!"] But it is not the only policy. Other policies need to be taken into account—for example, relating to the environment, social questions, infrastructure, diversification and so on.

During my time, and that of my predecessors in the Ministry, we incorporated a number of policies into the framework, for example objective 5b. What is lacking is the overarching approach, which I deem to be extremely important. If the right hon. Gentleman is able to produce a policy for the countryside, he will have my support and that of my right hon. and hon. Friends. It will be subject to provisos, of course. The overall cost must not exceed the cost of the existing budget. There needs to be a high degree of subsidiarity. It is important that we should not accept regulations that are unlikely to be as tightly enforced in Europe as in the United Kingdom. It is important, too, that we emphasise the principle that all payments that are made should have their purpose clearly stated; should be capable of being properly monitored; should be justified against precise criteria; and in the end should be funded by the taxpayer, not the consumer.

On all those policies, the right hon. Gentleman will have the support of most of the House, but he will find that he lacks allies in Europe. That is why progress has been so difficult and slow. The case for fundamental change in the common agricultural policy is not a popular cause among the Agriculture Ministers in Europe. On the general issue, he will find support from Commissioner Fischler. I recognise that fact and commend Commissioner Fischler for his attitude.

In general terms, the right hon. Gentleman will probably find support from the Swedes, sometimes from the Dutch, sometimes from the Danes. On specific matters, he will be able to forge alliances, for example with the Italians on milk quotas, but—this is the important point always to keep in mind—there is no general support within the Agriculture Council for root-and-branch reform. There will be reform—there has been reform—but it is always pushed by events rather than by a rational discussion of what should be. Some events are already in place and there will be more: the existing budgetary constraints, the commitments that we have taken under the general agreement on tariffs and trade, the likely commitments that we will take under the World Trade Organisation talks that are soon to start and, of course, enlargement. However, the process of reform will be gradual, frustratingly slow and always driven by events, rather than by rational decision making.

The Minister will find that there is a deeply held view within the Council that matters agricultural should be exclusively matters for the Agriculture Council itself.

Dr. John Cunningham


Mr. Hogg

I am glad to hear the Minister say that. It is a terrible error.

Dr. Cunningham

I thank the right hon. and learned Gentleman, who is making a good speech, for his kind remarks about me taking this office. I suspect that many of the problems that he faced in Europe were not of his own making, but were the creation of the former Prime Minister and the former Foreign Secretary. He had to live with the consequences of what they said and did. I was not describing his comments as nonsense—I was agreeing with him. It is nonsense to leave huge expenditures to the Agriculture Council, and they should be on the agenda of ECOFIN and other ministerial Councils.

Mr. Hogg

I had so interpreted the Minister. When he talks to colleagues in the Council on enlargement, he will find that many Agriculture Ministers would prefer to retain the CAP as is, even if that were to prevent enlargement from taking place. I hope that he will come to the conclusion that it is important to involve Chancellors, Presidents, Prime Ministers and Foreign Ministers—and those yet greater than Agriculture Ministers—in the issue. There are four specific points that I would like to make on the documents. First is the question of modulation. The Minister has made the point that I wanted him to make—that policies of modulation would be very much contrary to the interests of the United Kingdom and must be resolutely resisted. My right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer) achieved a great victory on that matter in 1992.

Mr. Cynog Dafis (Ceredigion)

It is important that somebody makes the point that opposition to modulation is not universal within the United Kingdom. In the Farmers Union of Wales—and, I think, among many members of the National Farmers Union in Wales—there is strong support for the principle of modulation. I ask all parties not to close their eyes to this issue, and at least to be open to examining the feasibility of allowing modulation on a varying basis between different countries and regions. It is very important not to close the door on that.

Mr. Hogg

I was aware that there were those who disagreed with me on that point. I considered the argument when I was the Minister, and the real danger is one of principle. Once one accepts the principle of modulation in one sector, it is difficult so to confine it. That is one of the reasons why I came firmly to the conclusion that it would be wrong to support policies of modulation.

There are three other brief points I wish to make. The Minister must consider milk quotas this year, and I hope that he will robustly resist any proposals to cut unilaterally the United Kingdom's allocation. I hope also that he will press as robustly as he can for inter-state transferability.

On potatoes—not a matter that the right hon. Gentleman will have focused on directly yet—there is a powerful case for a lightweight regime, and I stress the lightness of the weight. If the choice were between a heavyweight regime and no regime, 1 would prefer no regime, but a lightweight regime is desirable.

Finally, I wish to make a comment on beef in response to my hon. Friend the Member for Rochford and Southend, East. Beef is in over-production, and exceeds consumption by a substantial amount, and that can be addressed partly by policies to encourage consumption. Those should be primarily financed by the industry, but it may be that the EU and Governments have a role to play. However, we must encourage a reduction in production. That will be hard, and certainly must include a reduction in support prices—for example, intervention prices—and policies designed to encourage extensification.

I shall refer briefly to BSE—a subject with which I have a certain grim familiarity. I sympathise with the Minister in his predicament, in that despite all his meetings, telephone calls and consultations, he has no timetable and no bankable assurances and has made no progress. That said, provided he continues to follow the policies that I put in place—which he has been following almost in their totality—he will have my support.

The Minister is right to press ahead with the certified herds scheme. My bet is that the Commission and the Council will propose some form of Northern Irish solution, and I will not criticise him if he takes that offer. He should treat it as but the first step and urgently seek comparable treatment for other parts of the United Kingdom. He is right also to press the case urgently for the exemption of cattle born after 1 August last year, and beef products from those cattle. There is a point on maternal transmission, but suitable safeguards can be incorporated in such a scheme, which I believe is intellectually wholly justified.

The Minister has talked about an EU-wide offal ban or regime and he is following on from our proposals and policies. In December last year, the Commission proposed an EU-wide offal regime. We supported it, but the Council did not. We pressed the Commissioner to come forward with further proposals, and I am glad that he is doing so. I hope, and I am confident, that the Minister will support him.

If such proposals are not passed by the Council, the right hon. Gentleman will be right—I would have done exactly the same—to impose a national ban on imports from those EU countries that do not have an appropriate offal control regime comparable with our own and where there is a reasonable risk that BSE is present either in the national herd or in the beef products being manufactured. That is four square within the policies that we adopted.

The Minister spoke briefly about his view of the Department, and I do not dissent very much from what he said. I always regarded my paramount duty, and that of the Department, as being to the consumer. The overwhelming duties, obligations, interests and concerns of MAFF are the quality of food and food safety. MAFF is not in the pockets of the producer, although it is perfectly true that the interests of the producer and of the manufacturer are important to MAFF. If one must make a choice between them, the consumer comes first. For that reason, my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Mr. Baldry) and I proposed the chief food safety adviser and the Food Safety Council. The Minister has preferred an agency. So be it—one can achieve results in various ways.

I shall make two points about the proposed agency, although we shall consider the detailed proposals when they are produced. First, Ministers must remain accountable for the implementation of policy. Nothing else will be acceptable. Secondly, if the Minister wants the public to be reassured—they need reassurance, although I think much of the uncertainty is unjustified—it is important that the agency or the body giving the assurance is independent, authoritative and remote from the process of implementation. If the body that is monitoring and commenting on food safety is also the body implementing food policy, I fancy that there will be no great reassurance.

I spent a lot of time—although less than I would have liked because of BSE—visiting factories, processors and, of course, farms. I came away enormously impressed with the high quality and safety of British food. I am not for a moment trying to deny that there are improvements that could be made here and there. I know perfectly well that the standards in some abattoirs are not what we would wish—we have been driving them up, but there are further improvements to make. However, to pretend that British food is not of the highest standard is a caricature. Frankly, much of the criticism that I have read and heard, denigrating the quality and safety of British food, is arrant nonsense. We have a right to be proud of the British food industry and I hope that the Minister will take every opportunity to say so.

Finally, I must say a brief word about the relations that I hope the ministerial team will have with the farming community, the National Farmers Union, the Country Landowners Association and others. As I said, MAFF's principal duties are to the consumer. If one has to choose, that is where the main obligation lies. None the less, it is important to maintain a close relationship with the farming community, whose interests are important. That community plays a central part in the rural economy and has a lot to teach us in this place. The practical implications of policy are not always immediately apparent to officials or—dare I say it—Ministers. Early discussion and consultation, therefore, are enormously valid.

In that context—I hope the Minister will forgive me for making a less gracious remark—I strongly deprecate the right hon. Gentleman's decision to do away with the regional panels. I found them valuable. They were a good source of advice and information and information gathering will be impoverished by their destruction.

The farming community is worried and troubled. It feels unsafe in Labour's hands—[HON. MEMBERS: "Come on!"] No, the community feels unsafe in Labour's hands for a variety of reasons. First, it sees the Labour party as an urban party. Secondly, it sees the party as being vulnerable to pressure from single-interest groups and I am bound to say that I think the community is right. There are already signs that the countryside will be prejudiced by a Labour Government because of their policy on fox hunting, for example, the policy towards badgers and the position that some hon. Members have on occasion taken on the export of live animals, as well as what has frequently been said on the right to roam.

The farming community is right to be troubled. I do not believe that the future of the countryside and the farming community is safe in Labour hands.

Dr. John Cunningham

The right hon. and learned Gentleman is ruining a perfectly good and credible speech with all this nonsense at the end about farmers and rural communities not feeling safe with Labour. The Conservative party has no representatives in Scotland, which is quite rural, or in Wales, which is pretty rural. I and my colleagues who have represented rural areas for many years have the largest majorities that we have ever had—that is certainly true in my case in 27 years in the House—so he is talking absolute nonsense. Of course, farmers have concerns, some of which are legitimate and some of which are not necessarily as they think, but I must remind the right hon. and learned Gentleman that their concerns are principally a consequence of the failures of the previous Administration. That is what has caused farmers so much trouble—not the advent of a Labour Government, who are well in touch with rural communities and need no lessons from him about how to represent them as we have been doing it effectively for a very long time.

Mr. Hogg

I am afraid that the right hon. Gentleman deceives himself. Had the Parliamentary Secretary been able to meet his commitment to attend the Lincolnshire county show yesterday—as I did—where his absence was much noted, he would have heard many of the anxieties that I have expressed today.

I do not intend to end primarily on a discordant note, however. So, if the Minister promotes the interests of the British farming community and of British agriculture, he will receive support from us of a sort that we never received from Labour when we were in government. He needs to remember, however, that the workings of his Ministry are dominated by Europe and that the European agricultural policy is largely driven by national self-interest. It is true that parsnips are not buttered by good words. There is no substitute for a vigorous assertion of the British national interest. I wish the right hon. Gentleman well if he does that and, if needs must, he must be ready to stand alone in the Council.

5.4 pm

Mr. Colin Pickthall (West Lancashire)

There could be no more dramatic demonstration of the changes made seven weeks ago than the fact that the Conservative agriculture spokesman in this debate, the right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg), had only four Conservative Back Benchers sitting behind him. Strikingly, we have also seen only two of the Europhobe guerrillas from the Opposition in the Chamber—the hon. Members for Rochford and Southend, East (Sir T. Taylor) and for Ludlow (Mr. Gill), who are both beloved by Labour Members. It is strange for the right hon. and learned Gentleman to remark that Labour is seen as an urban party. He should look at the map after the recent general election.

Agriculture in the United Kingdom has many forces tugging at it, not least climate change, which even the common agricultural policy does not seek to control at this stage. Two of the chief tugging forces are the manipulative power of the CAP and the controlling force exercised by the buying power of the giant supermarket and fast-food chains. The latter have the power to control the margins of primary agricultural and horticultural producers and are extending that power as their smaller competitors are increasingly pushed out of business. Although that is not directly germane to the debate, it demonstrates a pressure on our agriculture industry that will increasingly be felt alongside any changes in the CAP that reduce the prices of agricultural produce.

At the same time, as has been said, European enlargement will present a further challenge as, of course, does the general agreement on tariffs and trade. The CAP cannot continue as it is in the context of enlargement. MAFF estimates the cost of its continuance at £15 billion ecu a year for Poland, the Czech Republic, the Slovak Republic and Hungary alone; so, revisions to the CAP have to have enlargement very much in mind. The two will be inextricably intertwined.

The CAP was conceived, sensibly—as was British agricultural policy in 1947—to avoid food shortages and the collapse of parts of the industry, but it has metamorphosed over the years to preside over an era of surplus. Farming throughout Europe is now efficient in varying degrees, intensive in varying degrees and stable, with periodic disasters, of course, such as BSE. The EU is effectively self-sufficient in food and certainly in basic foodstuffs, but the CAP has not changed radically, as it should have done, to deal with the removal of its initial purpose. Instead, there has been an increasingly complex system of subsidies and quotas, which seek to second-guess the market and to control the ever increasing efficiency and productivity of our farmers. The consequences for the taxpayer in the European Union and for the hugely inflated bureaucratic burden placed on farmers have been unacceptable.

The European Union seems to have lost sight of the fact that interventionism and protectionism—both key features of the CAP—are not part of article 39 of the treaty of Rome. The whole tangled system has arisen as a result of ad hoc responses, seeking to hold together vastly different agricultural traditions and communities in the European Union. I do not see how we can sustain much longer a system that seeks to embrace tobacco farmers in Crete, hill sheep farmers in Cumbria and everything in between. It does not make sense.

We have ended up with expensive absurdities in the United Kingdom, such as the dairy regime and set-aside. The dairy quota in the UK has resulted in our not being allowed to produce enough milk to meet our domestic requirements, while other countries are permitted to produce enough to allow them substantial exports.

Britain, because of its geography and its farmers' efficiency, is probably the country best placed to supply all the milk that it needs itself and to export, but the quota system prevents that. Furthermore, the value attached to milk quota makes it almost impossible for new entrants who do not inherit to get into dairy farming at all.

It is hard for any man or woman in the street to understand why a country such as ours, with a huge adverse imbalance of trade in food, pays farmers to set aside good growing land and pays bureaucrats to administer the system. EU agricultural exports can compete on the world market only through a labyrinth of subsidies, all open to fraud, while home markets are protected against imports.

Clearly, the CAP must be reformed drastically, and the quicker the better, but I agree with the right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham that the difficulties in getting agreement in the EU on the extent and nature of reform are immense.

One basis for the way forward lies in the impulse behind the Cork declaration and in the underlying strategy behind the Labour party's policy document, "A Working Countryside", which the Parliamentary Secretary, my hon. Friend the Member for Scunthorpe (Mr. Morley), played a large part in putting together. I know, from what he and my right hon. Friend the Minister have said, that they are thinking of changing the title and mission statement of their Ministry, to reflect a more realistic emphasis on rural policy and food policy as a whole, rather than on simply the manipulation of production.

The National Farmers Union also addressed that question in "Real Choices", which I consider a seminal document, published about three years ago. At the centre of what we must campaign for should be the reduction and, in most cases, ending of subsidy payments, and an end to centralised supply control.

Agriculture will never be an entirely free market, for the simple reason that no state can entirely relinquish its grip on the environmental consequences of farming or risk its overall food supply in difficult times, but the CAP must be made to end those controls that most distort the market in agricultural produce, and allow farmers to compete openly for their home market and for the European and world markets, which are the biggest of the challenges.

The phasing out of subsidies and quotas would also mean phasing out intervention buying, surpluses and crop destruction or give-away—the symbol for most people of the CAP' s malfunctioning. Most British farmers would be well placed to compete in a freer market. The huge budget reductions that should accrue from such a process should, at least in part, go back to rural areas for conservation work, environmental enhancement and economic regeneration of the rural areas—which are now largely represented by Labour Members. The two processes would have to be integrated over a reasonable period, so that farm incomes are not slashed before the new support systems are in place. Britain has fairly wide experience, although not lavishly funded, of agri-environmental schemes, on which the Select Committee on Agriculture reported earlier this year. I noted in Question Time earlier today that the Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Scunthorpe, announced that the Government would respond to that in the near future; I look forward to that.

I hope that the Government will consider the report's recommendations—which were perhaps not as fiercely expressed as I would have liked, but are along the right lines—and consider them as possible pilots for the thrust of a reformed CAP. In particular, I hope that they will consider the recommendation to integrate the schemes into a single, national framework, which would make the monitoring and administration of the system more efficient. I believe that the Welsh Office has already considered the consequences of a Wales-wide scheme, and that might be an efficient way in which to begin—although I leave it to Welsh Members to comment further.

The Select Committee also recommended that farmers should be encouraged to draw up farm conservation plans. That could be happening now, and we need not wait too long for it. I hope, too, that the Government will consider training schemes for farmers and farm workers in environmental management, and ways of assisting new entrants go into farming and horticulture.

Decoupling subsidy from production and freeing up the market must be accompanied by encouragement for farmers to reduce intensification, in turn reducing the use of agrochemicals and grazing intensity in less-favoured areas. There should be incentives for farmers to plant trees in nitrate-sensitive areas, for example. There is a host of suggestions in the report that add up to a way forward for a new CAP.

It will become clear that addressing socio-economic difficulties in less-favoured areas, alongside reduction in support for production, must be undertaken on a regional basis. Most measures will have to be region specific, and could well be in the form of regional development programmes, as suggested in the previous Government's document "European Agriculture: the Case for Radical Reform", which I believe was published last year. That might well fit with the proposals of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions for regional development agencies.

We should put much more effort into organic farming. The United Kingdom falls way behind some of our EU partners, as the hon. Member for Lewes (Mr. Baker) said in Question Time. Organic growers need help with rapid transportation and distribution if organic produce is to seize a proportion of the market. Vegetables, for example, soon lose their attractiveness alongside mass-produced, rapidly distributed vegetables on supermarket shelves, if they begin to dry out and—[Interruption.]

Mr. Mike Hall (Weaver Vale)

There has been a disturbance in the Chamber, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and I understand that the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague) is the new leader of the Tory party.

Mr. Pickthall

Well, that is good news—for us.

In the changes that are necessary—not the one of which we have just heard—to reduce the growth of intensive agriculture, there are powerful demands for diversification. It would be preferable for the change of direction to come about through the activities represented by agri-environmental schemes rather than through the growth of the theme-park variety of diversification. Increasing numbers of large housing developments on former agricultural land, golf courses, driving ranges and motor bike scrambling tracks will not lead to environmental improvement or significant rural economic regeneration. Last year's Countryside Commission document on the future role of agri-environment schemes was right when it said: while we work for broader CAP reform, we could use agri-environment and other experimental approaches to test out and refine environmental farming systems which could be adopted more widely in the event of such reform. The farming community in Britain in recent years has shown itself remarkably hostile to the CAP, even those farmers who benefit substantially from subsidies. Hill farmers in the north of England tell me that they could not survive without the brown envelopes, as they put it, but equally they are deeply bothered about having to rely on subsidies for up to 75 per cent. of their income. My hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary earlier gave an average figure of £26,000 per sheep farm. That is an extraordinary figure. There is something very odd about hill farmers being paid to run sheep as glorified lawn mowers, keeping the fells trimmed to please the eyes of day trippers.

The NFU's document "Real Choices" and the general attitude of British farmers convince me that there has never been a better time for a British Government to work with people in agriculture to present a powerful case in Europe for reform. Add to that the fact that we now have a Government who are prepared to try to build, rather than ruin, alliances in Europe to achieve sensible, radical reform, and I hope, and anticipate, that the early years of the new century will see a more rational, less expensive and more environmentally friendly agriculture system that takes advantage of world markets on a more equal footing.

Ministers have a huge responsibility, and a huge opportunity, in that endeavour. I believe that they carry the good will of a large majority of the British people, including farmers. They will confront conflicting sectional interests in the industry, and the huge regional and national self-interest of the countries of the European Union, but the logic of what they are about is relentless and inescapable. The CAP is out of date, costly and wasteful. There is a broad consensus on that across the House and, I think, throughout the country. My right hon. Friend's start is welcome. I wish Ministers well in seeing it through to a satisfactory conclusion.

5.22 pm
Mrs. Caroline A. Spelman (Meriden)

I am grateful for the opportunity to make my maiden speech. I thank the House in advance for listening, given the foreshortened length of the debate. The House will appreciate that I pay tribute to my predecessor, Iain Mills, with a note of sadness. He was much respected in Meriden as a good constituency Member. He worked hard for those in need, especially in Chelmsley Wood in the north of the constituency, where he helped to secure a local Benefits Agency office. The sad circumstances of Iain's death must be a challenge to us all not to let a colleague down and to try harder to help colleagues facing problems or ill health. The House will want to reassure his widow that Iain's tragedy will strengthen our resolve to care for each other in the years ahead.

I wanted to speak in the debate on agriculture because of the acute pressures on the countryside in my constituency, especially the Meriden gap, a narrow corridor of green belt only six miles wide at its narrowest point between Coventry and Birmingham. As a newcomer to the area, selected only 11 weeks before the general election, I was struck by the fragile character of this rural area. Meriden, as the name implies, lies at the very centre of England and boasts excellent communications. With Birmingham international airport, the west coast main line and the midlands motorway network passing through, one can reach London, Bristol, Manchester, Paris or Amsterdam in an hour and a half—except on a bad day, in which case one would be jolly lucky to get to Wolverhampton in that time.

Meriden has conceded some of its best countryside to the prestigious national exhibition centre, a beneficiary of those good communications. That illustrates the willingness of my constituents to move with the times and be well connected, to welcome the facilities of modern business and transportation. However, that comes at a price. One can still find idyllic green country lanes in the villages of Barston, Berkswell and Hampton in Arden, but rising over the brow of the hill one is soon reminded of the proximity of the cities by the sound of traffic and the glow of lights.

What happens to the Meriden countryside will depend on the future shape of the common agricultural policy. The beef crisis has placed an exceptional strain on small family farms devoted to dairy and beef farming. Uncertainty has probably been the greatest strain. As we have heard that the incidence of BSE has fallen from 1,000 cases a week to 100 and that there is a prospect of eradicating the disease by 2001, a timetable for lifting the ban must now be possible. Meriden's small farms are small by British standards, but they are far from small in European terms. It is the Meriden-sized farms that may fall through the gap between very small farms, which are supported to prevent the desertification of the countryside as in rural Greece or Portugal, and the large farms typical of the Beauce in the Paris basin, which could probably survive with no support at all. I hope that the Minister agrees that any move towards modulation would be counter-productive to efforts to reform the CAP into a more market-oriented policy. It would disadvantage British farmers and could result in Meriden's farms going under concrete for ever.

Meriden's farmers will also struggle to compete if the support system for the CAP is not overhauled before the enlargement of the European Union. Anyone who has visited the vast collectivised farms of eastern Europe will realise the competitive advantage that they would enjoy, with their economies of scale and low wage costs. Unless the CAP is reformed into its separate economic and social aspects, it will collapse under the strain of supporting huge east European farms with unrealistic subsidies. I urge the new Government to fight hard to prevent British farmers from being disadvantaged by CAP reform and to watch out for the national aids that are often used by European countries to offset the impact of reform but distort agricultural markets.

Only a small percentage of my constituents are farmers, but the land that they tend, and the environment that it offers, is what attracts many more people to quit the city and raise their families in a relatively healthy, safe and harmonious environment. Those who choose to live in the leafy suburbs of Knowle and Dorridge have weighed up the benefits of dwelling poised between town and country. All too often, I am shown new developments where once stood bluebell woods and open fields. Residents are right to protest at the loss of the rural amenity for which they originally moved to the area. This is where the values of middle England are nurtured: honesty, fairness and mutual respect. To undermine this fragile framework, in which young people are brought up and the elderly retire with security and pleasure, would be a step backwards from the rural legacy that made England a green and pleasant land.

5.29 pm
Mr. Lawrie Quinn (Scarborough and Whitby)

I congratulate the hon. Member for Meriden (Mrs. Spelman) on a nice speech. I also take the opportunity to congratulate my near neighbour, the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague), who has something to be congratulated on this evening. I am sure that he would have been here this evening to hear what I have to say about the rural constituency of Scarborough and Whitby had circumstances been different. As the new Member of Parliament for Scarborough and Whitby, I am grateful for the opportunity to make this maiden speech on a subject which I know is of key importance to the fine people who live and work on the land in the glorious and popular part of North Yorkshire which I am proud to represent.

Scarborough and Whitby constituency is blessed by a dramatic coast of magnificent cliffs, with miles and miles of beautiful beaches stretching from just north of Filey, in the constituency of the hon. Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway), for 45 miles to Staithes, which is also known as the Yorkshire Polperro. The classic British family seaside holiday was invented in my constituency. I am glad to say that most hon. Members and their families have experienced and valued the hospitality and welcome of the people whom I come to the House to serve. I am not making an early application for the job of director of tourism by making that statement.

As well as the temptations of the shoreline, I commend the spectacular countryside of North Yorkshire national park, which is maintained in trust for an appreciative nation by some of the most hard-working farm workers one will find anywhere in the country. It will be far from a surprise to hon. Members if I urge those who have not had the pleasure of visiting my constituency to go for a stroll along Baxtergate in Whitby, or Aberdeen walk in Scarborough, or to take a touring holiday in the beautiful Esk valley, or to go to Robin Hood's bay. The choices are countless, and the attractions are something to be seen. They are real British gems. So I ask all hon. Members to appreciate the qualities of my constituency, if not of this speech.

Hon. Members who visit my constituents will be assured of a welcome every time, and their friends and families will be welcome time and again—the more times the merrier. After the hospitality industry and the growing light industrial sectors in Eastfield, Scarborough and Whitby, agriculture and fisheries are by far the main basis for economic activity in my beautiful part of the world.

My constituency is the 50th largest in England by area, but it is sparsely populated and we do not have the effective communications of which the hon. Member for Meriden spoke. We have about one third of the density of population of the rest of England. That is important to remember.

I have the honour to be the first Labour Member of Parliament to represent my part of the world. The constituency was previously known simply as Scarborough. This part of Yorkshire has time and again returned Conservative Members. I have looked back in the history books and found that there was a great political landslide in the early part of this century which saw the return of a Liberal Member for the borough of Scarborough.

As my hon. Friends probably know, I am a civil engineer. It was my job before I came here to prevent landslides. This is the first time that my professional colleagues have congratulated me on causing one. The famous Holbeck Hall hotel ended up in the sea. The local press suggested—

Mr. Pickthall

My hon. Friend failed to prevent that landslide.

Mr. Quinn

It was not my job. I was a railway civil engineer. I had to stand in front of the site of the Holbeck Hall disaster on the day after my election and point at the landslide. It was an awful pun, but I thank Scarborough Evening News for its contribution to this maiden speech.

The boundary changes of 1983 saw the restoration of Whitby and the Moors to the former parliamentary seat of the same name. Until 1974, Whitby was included in Cleveland, a seat which was later abolished as a result of the creation of the county of Cleveland. Yorkshire ceded a little bit of Yorkshire to the county of Cleveland. I regret that the previous Government redefined the boundaries of Cleveland. As a consequence of the 1995 boundary review, recommendations were made to change the name again to Scarborough and Whitby. I commend not only the local people from Whitby who insisted on the change of name but the many members of my constituency party who felt that it was important that Whitby was recognised in the name of the seat, and who made representations to that effect.

One speaks to many people on arriving in Parliament, and many people have spoken to me about the previous Member for the seat that I have the pleasure to serve. John Sykes is fondly remembered as a kind and caring Member of Parliament who was held in high regard for his abilities as a pianist, and for his sociability. He is also well known and respected in the constituency for his great work with charities. Although John and I could rarely find a common point in terms of political analysis, and rarely did we agree in any debate, John was always courteous to me, my family and friends.

I had a great surprise last Christmas when I received both a birthday card and a Christmas card from John and his family. They were different in tone and content from all the previous letters that I had received from him, and it was good to receive such a thoughtful card just before Christmas day, my birthday. I had to check with John that the card was from him. It was, and that is the sort of chap he is.

Following my success on 1 May, I was delighted to receive many letters of congratulation and support from many local people in my constituency. I should like to acknowledge now and put on record the high regard in which John Sykes's predecessor, Sir Michael Shaw, was held in the constituency. He was a remarkable Member of Parliament, who served our community for more than 26 years. People involved in politics in Scarborough and Whitby regarded him as a hard-working and commendable Member of Parliament. It would have been remiss of me not to place on record the high regard in which he is held in my part of North Yorkshire.

Sir Michael established a welcome tradition for me to take up on my entry into Parliament. I believe that it was he who set up the tradition of entertaining the Scarborough civic party in the House before its visit to Buckingham palace garden party. I am pleased to say that John Sykes maintained the tradition and that I shall have great pleasure in entertaining the civic party in the House when it comes down to London in July.

The past few weeks have been a tremendous historical chapter in the glorious history of the constituency that I serve. We had the Synod of Whitby in 665 at the famous abbey of Whitby. Caedmon, the first English poet, lived in Whitby until 680. The ancient rivalries between the Saxons and the Vikings, who set up the fishing community in Scarborough in the 10th century, are remembered in stories told time and again in local pubs and clubs in Scarborough and Whitby. It is a great tradition of history. Scarborough spa was established in the 17th century, which made Scarborough the first English seaside resort. That is something that we regard with great pride in my part of the world.

Scarborough and Whitby have contributed greatly to our nation's history and without a doubt are regarded highly internationally. Possibly the most notable episode in our history is that of Captain Cook. His connection with the people of Whitby is regarded with great fondness. Only recently the replica of the Endeavour returned to Whitby. We had 10 wonderful days in Whitby when more than 1.2 million people visited the small Yorkshire town. They came in their droves and felt the welcome and warmth of the people of Whitby and of my constituency.

It was remarkable that that happened in May 1997. It was pure magic for all those days in the streets of Whitby. The constituency and the community are now focused entirely on the project of rebuilding Captain Cook's Resolution, the largest ship to sail to Australia in the 18th century. That Resolution project will mark the start of the third millennium for my constituency. I hope that it will give jobs and skills to my constituents, as well as their providing the best fish and chips in Britain, the legend of Dracula and the famous Whitby welcome. I know that most of my constituents are keen to see the Endeavour return from her trip around Britain. I hope that she will return this autumn to be refitted in the port. The crew will then receive the hospitality of the port, before Endeavour commences her dangerous voyage over the Atlantic to Boston.

Hon. Members may think that that is more than enough to happen to a small place such as Whitby and a constituency such as Scarborough and Whitby, but there was more. In May, the Whitby Town footballers from the Northern league, who have become local legends, won the Football Association vase at Wembley; they have also become the champions of the Northern league. It was quite a month for Whitby and for the "Seasiders"—and, of course, I make no reference to the general election result in any of this.

The House will doubtless appreciate why I believe that there is a great sense of hope and optimism among my constituents. When I walk down streets such as Flowergate in Whitby and Huntriss row in Scarborough, which happen to be where the Conservative association clubs are located, I see people walking round with what local journalists call "coat-hanger smiles". They are happier than they have been in a long time—doubtless owing to the return of the Endeavour and Whitby's great victory in football.

My right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food's announcement yesterday on quota hoppers has been regarded with true Whitby and Yorkshire grit as a good start. In reality, that is the best we are going to get at the moment. But I commend to my right hon. Friend the idea of consultation on the fishing industry and its future, particularly in the ports that I represent—that would be very welcome. Those in the fishing industry want my right hon. Friend and his Front-Bench colleagues to listen to their problems. They feel that they have been forgotten, which is why it is important that we make a new start under this new Government.

I was advised that, when I made my maiden speech, I should try not to be controversial, and I hope that what I am about to say will not be regarded as such. I had an opportunity to reflect on my predecessor's maiden speech, in which he unfortunately described the fishing community in Scarborough and Whitby as my floating voters, but not in the democratic sense."—[Official Report, 8 June 1992; Vol. 209, c. 89.] That was a fundamental error on his part: any voter should be listened to, and it is the responsibility of every Member of the House to speak up as effectively as possible on behalf of all his constituents.

I am receiving puzzled looks from Opposition Members, who seem to be wondering when I will address the substantive point of the debate. I am here to contribute to the debate on the common agricultural policy, which is an important issue for my constituents and for farming interests in my constituency. They know that I do not come from a background of working the land. However, members of the local branch of the National Farmers Union know me, and know that I have a long and fruitful record of helping some of them, particularly when in my previous occupation. I was previously a railway civil engineer, an occupation which found me occasionally working with farmers.

I was regularly in contact with many landowners whose crops or stock had been damaged or killed owing to the alleged failure of railway fencing to keep out "railway rabbits" and badgers from the best crops of wheat, beet or other vegetables due for market. [Interruption.] I am receiving some acknowledgement from Opposition Members, who presumably recognise the truth of what I am saying.

The fences are there to keep the stock off the operational railway, not to keep the pests off the land. It has always amazed me that "railway rabbits", so called by the victims of the trespass, cannot be persuaded to wear the appropriate safety clothing. If they were railway rabbits, they would be wearing high-visibility orange vests.

Throughout my political career, I have attempted to use my perspective as an engineer. At Question Time, there was an exchange between my hon. Friends. Civil engineers rarely become Members of Parliament; the record shows that there are more lawyers than engineers in Parliament. But I bring with me my professional and personal code, which has always demanded that I solve problems, not cause them. I hope that my colleagues in the Whips Office agree that that sentiment merits consideration from all hon. Members.

In my constituency, as in the constituency of my right hon. Friend the Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham), many hill farmers struggle in dangerous and hostile environments to earn what, in many urban areas, would not be regarded as a fair living wage. There is strong evidence that the solitude of farmers and the continuing BSE crisis, which is affecting North Yorkshire's beef and dairy herds, is bringing many other pressures to rural communities and families.

Those increased pressures have led to greater levels of personal stress and greater social problems within individual families. I am sorry to say that there is evidence of more mental health problems among the farming community, which have, sadly, led to an increased suicide rate in that community. In my role as a Member of Parliament, I shall do as much as I can to mitigate the pressures on the rural and farming communities.

I accept that I am a beginner in terms of agriculture, which is not really my subject, but I am here to learn and to participate in the debate. My preparations for this maiden speech will serve me in good stead in my role as representative of the rural community in my constituency. I am confident that, with the help of farmers, farmers' families and other agricultural workers in my constituency, I shall form a deeper appreciation of the key problems affecting such an important economic activity in my constituency.

My right hon. Friend should give serious consideration to opening up the debate on the CAP as he did with fishing quotas. There is demand in the rural communities that I represent for my right hon. Friend to think carefully before accelerating towards enlargement of the Community or the CAP. There are doubtless significant agricultural problems in countries such as Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Romania. Before we start to expand the CAP in that direction, we must set about some benchmarking—an engineering term—for British agriculture.

Engineers have traditionally been concerned about not throwing out the baby with the bath water. My constituents—in their roles as arable, dairy, beef, pig, poultry and hill farmers—and I are hopeful that, before the debate moves too far towards the east, we should look carefully at an open and fair audit of our national production. We must consider such an audit before we can achieve the much-needed reform of the CAP.

The CAP needs to be more efficient, to save money and to tackle the fraud that is so obvious in many of our partner countries. We need to bring about a real improvement to support our rural economy, and to protect and enhance our environment. For the benefit of my constituents, we must deal with those matters so that we can get on with making important social, educational and transport infrastructure improvements. We need to focus resources on key areas to help pensioners and others in my constituency, who are queueing up with high expectations of our Government.

I commend the proposals for a food standards agency, which will go a long way towards protecting elderly pensioners in particular from the risk of terrible illnesses such as E. coli. The proposals are in the best interests of my constituents, and of both producers and consumers throughout the country.

I support the motion on which we shall be voting, and I thank hon. Members for listening to my speech.

5.50 pm
Mr. Charles Kennedy (Ross, Skye and Inverness, West)

It is always a pleasant task to follow and congratulate a maiden speaker. On this occasion, I find myself following and congratulating two successive maiden speakers. The hon. Member for Meriden (Mrs. Spelman) spoke with particular sensitivity about her late predecessor. I was never close to Iain either geographically or politically, but on one occasion we pursued a mutual constituency interest together and I can pay tribute to the good humour and friendliness, as well as the characteristic tenacity, with which he pursued it. We were all saddened by the circumstances that attended the end of his life, but the sensitivity of the hon. Lady's speech will find a warm echo here during the current Parliament, and I wish her well.

Then there was the landslide expert, the hon. Member for Scarborough and Whitby (Mr. Quinn). We all remember that hotel falling into the sea with particular affection—although I appreciate that it must have been a hot potato locally, and very distressing for those who were directly affected. I recall the celebrated—or, rather, unforgettable—occasion when the pound fell out of the exchange rate mechanism and the House was recalled for an emergency debate. Those of us who were present on that occasion were privileged to hear a legendary performance by the late John Smith, in which he built up a crescendo of attack against the beleaguered Government of the time, pointing out that not only had we fallen out of the ERM but the Grand National no longer started and hotels had begun falling into the sea.

We shall watch and pursue that constituency issue with great interest in the period ahead—and what an interesting period it will be, in the light of events in the past 50 minutes or so outside the Chamber in the parliamentary Conservative party. It is a reflection of the difficulty that the Conservatives are in with their countryside policy generally that they felt the need to distract attention from the debate by laying on such a memorable show to coincide with the farewell performance of the former Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. I assume that he still holds his shadow Cabinet post, unless he is the first to have been sacked.

Mr. Paul Tyler (North Cornwall)

He has been culled.

Mr. Kennedy

My hon. Friend may be right. Given the extraordinary result that has just taken place in the parliamentary Tory party, its members—having experienced a non-selective cull on 1 May—may well be heading politically for a policy approach of set-aside for themselves. We shall be more than willing to assist them in that direction.

Four fifths of the speech of the right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg), the former Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, was interesting and constructive. He made some telling observations based on his experience. Like the former Prime Minister, who has just ceased to be leader of the Conservative party, former Conservative Cabinet Ministers always sound much better in defeat than they ever did when they were on top. Let me say one thing to the right hon. and learned Gentleman by way of generosity, as the Liberal Democrats do not feel sufficiently generous to subscribe to the nonsense that has been tabled in the name of the Conservative party.

The Conservatives have had a bad night and a bad experience—I refer to 1 May, not to what has just happened. We should note not just the numbers but the complexion of the current parliamentary Conservative party, whose members have been beaten back to their rural shire strongholds—although many of those are hanging by pretty shoogly nails. Perhaps, despite the disastrous result—given the kind of seats that the Conservatives managed to cling on to—the former Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food was doing a little more right than he was given credit for, certainly by his own party, in the run-up to the general election.

This first agriculture debate in the new Parliament is significant. I need only look around me to see that the Liberal Democrats who are present more than outgun the Conservatives in terms of numbers. If the Conservatives carry on as they have been doing, they will not recover credibility in regard to such matters as agriculture, fisheries and rural policy generally. I am thinking not only of the amendment that they have tabled today, but of the response from the Dispatch Box following the statement on quota hopping yesterday. As someone put it rather brilliantly during Agriculture questions this afternoon, they keep wanting to shield themselves behind the self-evident shortcomings of their own Administration, who were in office only six or seven weeks ago.

There is an equally interesting facet of the current Parliament. We should consider not just the number of Liberal Democrats who have been returned, but the geography and demography of the seats represented by many of my 46 colleagues. We are now in a prime position to provide constructive, responsible, effective and credible opposition, in the best sense of the word—proper parliamentary and political opposition—to MAFF, perhaps finding it easier than the Conservatives will. That will be a major concern for my colleagues and me in the weeks and months ahead.

I congratulate—it would be churlish to do otherwise—not just the new ministerial team on their appointments, but the new Minister on the more constructive approach that he immediately initiated with Europe. That is clearly in all our interests. The Minister is operating within a Government who will not be a riven as their predecessor on matters European generally. He was also right to make it an early priority to talk to Mr. Fischler, establishing a rapport with his opposite numbers in the other Agriculture Ministries, talking to the incumbent Presidents and preparing, even at this stage, for the UK presidency which will happen in the first half of next year. All that is welcome.

I thank the Minister for his courtesy in the discussions about the immediate pressing BSE crisis, which has affected the whole beef sector. My hon. Friend the Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler)—whom I succeed as agriculture spokesman, although I am glad that we shall continue to benefit from the broad range of experience and credibility that he brought to the task-has already led a group of colleagues to meet the Parliamentary Secretary for some initial discussions, from the perspective of the south-west of England in particular. We were encouraged by some of the initial exchanges that we had today about the progress that could be achieved, which the Minister thinks is worth exploring. He confirmed that to me in an oral answer this afternoon, which he had been discussing with Sir David Naish of the NFU and others. We shall want to follow that up as a group, and to remain in close touch with the Government. There is no doubt that the position that they have inherited remains desperate from the point of the beef sector generally.

The beef sector has been visited by devastation, the like of which has not been seen for many years, and further constructive and sustained action must be taken to try to get the beef ban lifted. Although beef consumption has risen to above last year's level in the first quarter of this year, there is still understandable desperation in the beef sector. It is clear that that will go on through the summer and into the autumn, not least because suckler cows and calves will be coming to market.

The Government are correct in responding to the crisis that they have inherited by making sure that imports of beef meet the standards that are applied in this country. Anyone who has had dealings with the agricultural community in any part of the country will know that that unfairness added insult to huge injury. In advance of the 22 July meeting of the Agriculture Council, the House should send a constructive signal to Brussels that we shall give a fair wind to orders or instruments that may need to be tabled if there is not an adequate response from fellow EU member states.

Equally important is the need for a computerised central cattle database, which should be introduced as quickly as is feasible. Perhaps in his reply to the debate the Minister will outline the Department's thinking on the time scale that may be involved in that. Those of us who recently fought agricultural or rural seats have been honest with our farming representatives in saying that securing the overall lifting of the beef ban will not be easy nor was it ever likely to happen early or in one fell swoop.

People in agriculture must understand that they have voices and supporters in the House across the political spectrum. They should know that we shall do all that we can not just at Whitehall and UK levels but in Brussels where we hope to lobby the Commission. We shall also work with our colleagues in the European Parliament to maintain the greatest possible momentum to ensure that the logjam is broken. I hope that that happens sooner rather than later. We must not create false expectations or set artificial deadlines of the kind that were set early last year. I shall never forget listening to the Prime Minister when he returned from the summit saying that the ban would be lifted by November. In the Chamber, we heard the unmistakeable sound of the clock striking 13. Farmers have had more than enough of that kind of approach and a change is needed.

Other hon. Members, including one of my hon. Friends, wish to take part in the debate and make their maiden speeches, so I shall not overstay my welcome. However, I should like to comment on the broader issue of CAP reform, which underpins the papers for the debate. My hon. Friend the Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) was right when he said in an intervention on the Minister that Amsterdam was a bit of a disappointment in the context of the important political objective of EU enlargement. As that enlargement must be accompanied by inevitable reform of the CAP, let us hope that the lack of progress on the policy imperative of enlargement does not lead to sluggishness in discussions on reform of the CAP. Enlargement and reform must be in step, and slow discussions would be a great setback for our agricultural interests.

I tend to agree with the Minister that the CAP must move closer to the marketplace. That is a sane policy, not least because of our international trade obligations and the markets in which we seek to sell. That means a move away from supply control and the present system of subsidy payments. As the Cork declaration made clear some time ago, the Commission recognises that CAP reform is at the top of the European agenda and that it must take into account the wider concerns of environmental sustainability and rural diversification.

If we head towards more and more conglomerates at the expense of the family farm, we shall be on a policy line that is completely counter-productive to the broader policies that we want to achieve for the sustainability of the rural economy and the role of the family farm in underpinning that. That applies particularly to areas such as Wales. I note that my hon. Friend the Member for Brecon and Radnorshire (Mr. Livsey) nods. Following the Cork declaration, it is important to try to move Europe in the direction of sustainable agriculture that will be able to compete in world markets while at the same time sustaining the environment and rural economies.

There will be opportunities later this year to look at the British presidency in the first half of next year. Some measures ought to be pursued and at this early stage the Minister has outlined one or two of them. I hope that we shall be extremely proactive in using the lucky coincidence of our presidency next year to ensure that those matters are on the agenda and in making sure that it is relevant to our agriculture. CAP reform is the most obvious issue, but there will also be opportunities to debate fishing.

The co-operation that has developed in this country between agriculture and environmentalists of one type or another is a good way forward for Europe. When I entered the House in 1983, environmental and agricultural interests were at each other's throats: the dialogue was conducted from two trenches. Nowadays groups such as the Crofters Commission in my part of the country, the National Farmers Union and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds have formed joint working parties and published joint documents. That is a great step in terms of general thinking and approach, and anything that the Government can do to foster that productive atmosphere among our European neighbours as well will be good for getting coherent and sensible reform of agricultural policy as a whole. I hope that they will use their presidency to proceed in that way.

The Minister spoke about incomes, which fell significantly last year. As the Minister said, it seems that this year will be bad. Green pound revaluations have obviously extracted their price from all sectors of farming, which have suffered significantly. Of course, the Government could pay about £706 million as a result of the changes over the next three years or so, and half of that amount would come from the European Union. I accept that it is early days, but so far Britain has not made a claim on those sums. No doubt No. 11 Downing street will have much to say about the issue in the context of the Government's overall spending review. However, given the scale of the difficulties, if half that sum is available, the Department should move to claim it if that is felt appropriate.

My second point on incomes relates not just to farmers but to farm workers. The Government intend to set up a low pay commission. I hope that in the course of examining issues such as a minimum wage the Government will take on board the concerns of farm workers, not least because there are still agricultural wages boards. It would be ironic if, when the Government are moving in this direction, they did not at least take account of the evidence and arguments from the wages boards that remained untouched throughout the Thatcherite era. I hope that the Government will not lose sight of that when they consider incomes relative to farming as a whole.

I hope that, on a UK basis—and I do mean by that Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland as well as the different parts of England—the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food will consult all the component parts on these extremely complex issues. I hope also—I return to what I said at the outset about myself and my hon. Friends—that, as we see a displacement in our population, with more people moving out of urban Britain and into rural Britain, and with many difficulties in terms of attitudes perhaps being transplanted from one part of Britain to another, which do not always sit very easily or diplomatically with some of the more instinctive attitudes of rural Britain, my hon. Friends and I can constructively give effective voice to the attitudes of rural areas, and ensure that they are not just drowned out by the Labour party, which may be more rurally oriented, but which, inevitably, when one considers its complete membership in the House of Commons, is urban-dominated.

Those voices and communities need to be heard. I think that our friends to the right, the Conservative Members, particularly after tonight's decision, may not be giving effective voice to anything much for the foreseeable future. Therefore, the Liberal Democrats have a positive role to play in this Parliament in the next few years.

6.10 pm
Mr. George Stevenson (Stoke-on-Trent, South)

I say to the hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Inverness, West (Mr. Kennedy), who made an interesting speech, that I have not a single farm in my constituency. It is completely urban. Many of my constituents say to me, "Given the make-up of your constituency, why are you interested in agricultural affairs?" My answer is simple: "I have a funny lot of constituents: they like to eat and they like to drink milk and other agricultural products." The present iniquitous system, which has been with us for far too long, means that my constituents pay through the nose, week in, week out, through taxes, subsidies and food prices, to support that system. The time is long overdue for a radical and fundamental reform of the system. I hope that that has given some consolation to the hon. Gentleman.

I want to direct my remarks mainly to CAP reform. The speech of the right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg), the shadow spokesman, was remarkable. As I listened to his positive speech, I could not help but think, as I am sure other hon. Members did: why, in all the time that there was a Conservative Government, were hardly any of the things that he referred to enacted? Although I felt that his speech had more than a touch of the lecture about it, it was a positive lecture and, in that sense, it is welcome.

It worried me when I heard the shadow spokesman say that one of the first things that my hon. Friends on the Front Bench will find when they attend the Agriculture Council is that none of the other Council members knows anything about agriculture. That is dangerous, and I am sure that my hon. Friends will not need reminding that the last thing that they should do is to go into that Council meeting with the attitude that no one else knows what they are talking about. I fear that that Freudian slip—if it was a Freudian slip—reflects starkly the reasons why we have such a crisis in agriculture today. For 18 years, Conservative Members have gone into those meetings as if they were the only ones who knew what they were talking about and everyone else did not. The shadow spokesman's remark clearly illustrates why we have the problems that we face today.

Nevertheless, the prospects for the CAP reforms that we want are probably better now than they have been for two decades. There were good prospects for fundamental reform in 1984, but the Government failed. There were similar prospects in 1988, but the Government failed. There were similar prospects in 1992 and, although the Government came back and trumpeted the 1992 reforms as fundamental, we all know that they were nothing of the sort.

In a speech to the House on the 1992 MacSharry reforms, the then Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, the right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer), said a couple of interesting things. One was that the taxpayer and the consumer would save £8 billion in three years as a result of the reforms. It is interesting to note that, since he made that statement, the CAP budget has increased by more than 30 per cent.—so much for the taxpayer and the consumer benefiting from the reforms. We should never again make promises that we know cannot be achieved.

In the same speech in 1992, the right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal said that, although there were no changes in the milk regime or in the quota, under the package, there was no reason why all milk quotas should not disappear in three years. It is now 1997 and the prospects for quotas disappearing are probably as remote today as they ever were, so there are important lessons for us and for Ministers to learn in terms of agriculture reform.

I said earlier that the prospects for fundamental CAP reform are probably better now than they have been for some time. I hope that I am not accused of wishful thinking. Some of the factors that will inevitably lead to that reform have already been mentioned, but they are worth repeating. Enlargement is one. Everyone I talk to is in favour of it. Even most EU member states are in favour of it, but how can there be enlargement without fundamental CAP reform? It is simply impossible.

The notion that countries that want to be EU members and whose prices are probably well below those attainable within the CAP will not want to have the full benefits of the policy, with the horrendous budgetary consequences, is nonsense. The World Trade Organisation has also been mentioned. Pressures there will inevitably mean that reform will take place.

I am under some pressure from the Whips to end my speech, but I want to make just two more quick points. First, public opinion will not tolerate any more prevarication on fundamental CAP reform. The CAP may have gone down the political agenda somewhat over the past few years and been overtaken by economic and monetary union, but I know that my hon. Friends on the Front Bench will change that.

Secondly, we now have a clear and positive agenda for change. Among other things, that agenda includes the notion that, if we are to make changes in the CAP that are relevant to the communities that depend on agriculture for their well-being, we have to insist, if we can, that subsidiarity is part of CAP reform.

I am delighted to welcome and to support the motion. At long last, we have a Government who not only have the agenda and the policies, but are determined positively, with the co-operation and support of the other EU member states, to make fundamental CAP reform a reality.

6.19 pm
Mr. Christopher Gill (Ludlow)

I preface my remarks by declaring an interest in the meat and livestock industry.

I congratulate the two new Members who made their maiden speeches today. The hon. Member for Scarborough and Whitby (Mr. Quinn) will long be remembered for his reference to landslides. It is the sort of thing that tends to be remembered. Indeed, he made an engaging speech—as did my hon. Friend the Member for Meriden (Mrs. Spelman), a fellow west midlander. She spoke well of her constituency and, as the hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Inverness, West (Mr. Kennedy) said, she spoke sensitively about her predecessor. I well remember speaking in the Meriden constituency a few years ago and the thrill that I felt to be in the centre of England on St. George's day.

I congratulate the Minister of State, the hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker), on joining the agriculture Front-Bench team. I appreciate that it must be difficult for someone who represents an urban area to learn, at the speed necessary, about the intricacies and complications of agriculture and its ancillary industries. However, I was impressed to note that he has already taken the bull by the horns—to use an agricultural metaphor—and applied a typical west midlands commonsense approach to the problems facing him.

I thank the Minister of State for receiving a deputation yesterday from the meat industry, representing wholesalers, abattoir owners, retailers, catering butchers and all other sections of the industry. We put our case to him and I thank him for the courtesy with which we were received and for the patience and understanding with which he listened to what we had to say. I very much hope that the spirit of co-operation and willingness to help will be a feature of the new Government.

Obviously and inevitably, there will be differences of opinion between the Opposition and the Government from time to time, but I hope that those criticisms will be constructive and helpful. At the end of the day, many of us realise that we cannot help our industry if we engage in the sort of adversarial exchanges across the Floor which, in the past, have been so very damaging to the meat and livestock and the agriculture industries.

If Members of Parliament insist on standing up in the Chamber and saying that beef is not safe—or that apples or whatever are not safe—that has an enormously damaging effect, out of all proportion to the words used. It is a well-known saying that if one wants to keep a secret, one speaks about it in the House. However, that does not always apply, because often the matters that we would rather did not get out have a tendency to do just that. Too often, hon. Members have made irresponsible remarks about British food, which have hit the headlines and caused untold damage to both consumer confidence and the industry.

There is a great willingness to co-operate, as far as is possible, in the interests of the industry and also—I want to emphasise this point—in the interests of the consumer. Without a satisfied consumer who is confident when buying a British agricultural product, there will be no prosperity in British agriculture.

The Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food said that the Government would insist on the highest standards, and I am sure that we all applaud that commitment. However, in this modern age, so many of the pressures to improve standards and quality come not from legislation, but as a consequence of commercial pressures, applied to all sectors of the industry, to ratchet up standards. For example, in the relationship between a supplier and a major retailer, it is the retailer that drives up standards—not any legislation.

Mr. Clifton-Brown

Does my hon. Friend accept that it is all very well for the United Kingdom to drive up standards, but it would be disgraceful if meat were imported from third-world countries, which do not have the same standards, merely because it was cheaper?

Mr. Gill

I agree with my hon. Friend; it is a matter of great concern. I do not share the Government's optimism that they can solve the problem simply by checking the documentation, because we would then run into the whole area of fraud, as so much of the imported product is not what it is purported to be. Apparently, there is no effective way of policing that. I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising that important point.

Parliament tends to be reactive. A problem arises and the Government, of whatever political persuasion, react and try to accommodate public opinion. However, trade, industry and commerce operate differently. Instead of being reactive, they are proactive. I stress again that so much of the improvement in standards in food and the output of the agriculture industry has been because of the commercial pressures applied on the industry, rather than because of legislation.

In future, there must be a presumption in favour of education, both within the industry and of the people who eat the industry's products. There will be a much better overall result if, instead of legislating for every eventuality, we take a more sensible approach and realise that a huge education job needs to be done, involving every one of us. If we have to legislate, we must be careful to ensure that the rules that we try to enforce are both practicable and achievable.

The Minister said that the need to reform the CAP is staring us in the face. I do not think that anyone in the Chamber would disagree. My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg) drew attention to the frustrations that the new Government will face. We all support their enthusiasm to get matters right and we admire their aspirations and their determination to get results—but they should not be under any illusions about the difficulty of achieving the targets they set themselves in the forum of the European Community. It is much more difficult to get changes to legislation in the forum of Europe than it is in the forum of this Parliament. We wish them well, but they should not approach the matter wearing rose-tinted spectacles. Very soon, they will realise that the practical difficulties faced by the Conservative Government are the same practical difficulties that they will face.

On the issue of the beef ban, I welcome the Government's commitment to table four orders relating to the import of beef and beef products. The Opposition will be anxious to hold the Government to their commitment if they do not get the undertakings that they expect from the EU on 22 July. The lifting of the export ban is vital.

I want to mention another ban that seriously affects British beef and beef products, that is, the ban imposed by local authorities throughout the country on the use of British beef and beef products in school meals and other catering services. I very much hope that Ministers in the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, in conjunction with their counterparts in the Department of Health, will bring every possible pressure to bear on local authorities, to persuade them that British beef and British beef products are perfectly safe and should be restored to school menus.

There has been some talk of over-production, but over-production can so easily be explained. Production is stimulated by subsidy to a greater or lesser extent. There will be, for example, a given number of sheep on a given number of farms and hillsides—probably more sheep than those hillsides and farms can sustain—because of the attractions of subsidies. I do not have sufficient time to give other examples of how subsidies stimulate production. Nevertheless, we are able to stimulate consumption only by price, because consumption is very sensitive to price. We should be attempting to reduce the cost of production, so that products are consumed rather than stored or disposed of in other ways. Consumption is the key to many agricultural problems—not least of which are the problems in the beef sector. If we can stimulate demand, we shall go a long way towards solving those problems.

Earlier today, the Parliamentary Secretary said that he was in favour of supporting organic farming. By the same token, I argue that the Government should be doing whatever they can to stimulate demand. In the longer run, such a strategy will be cheaper than supporting production that must be put into cold store or elsewhere. Such a strategy will be more beneficial for the industry and for the British public and consumers.

6.31 pm
Mr. David Lepper (Brighton, Pavilion)

Mr. Deputy Speaker, thank you for allowing me—as another hon. Member representing a largely urban constituency—to make my maiden speech in today's debate. Unlike my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Stevenson), however, I have one farm in my constituency. I know that the issues of the quality of the food that we eat and of the countryside are of great interest to my constituents.

I pay tribute to the hon. Members who have made their maiden speeches in this debate—the hon. Member for Meriden (Mrs. Spelman) and my hon. Friend the Member for Scarborough and Whitby (Mr. Quinn). I take issue with my hon. Friend, however, because my constituency of Brighton, Pavilion—not his constituency of Scarborough and Whitby, as he claimed—invented the English seaside holiday.

I have the honour of being the first Labour Member for Brighton, Pavilion. It is also appropriate that I am a Labour-Co-operative Member. I remind the House that the Co-operative Wholesale Society is the largest commercial farmer in the United Kingdom. It was in West street, in Brighton, 170 years ago, that Dr. William King and others set up both a retail shop and a school that were based on co-operative principles. Brighton, with Rochdale, can justly claim its place as being the birthplace of the UK Co-operative movement. Today, Rochdale and Brighton both have Labour Members, and our country has a Government who hold firmly to the co-operative ideal that we achieve more by working together than we do by working alone.

Sir Derek Spencer was my immediate predecessor in the House. He was a Yorkshireman by birth, and his ability as a lawyer was recognised almost immediately after his election to the House, in 1992, by his elevation to the post of Solicitor-General—an office that he held and performed ably throughout the life of the previous Parliament. That job is vital, but, unless there is a major controversy, it does not attract the limelight. Sir Derek's period in office was free of controversy, which reflects the conscientious way in which he filled the post.

Before Sir Derek, the seat was held for 20 years by Sir Julian Amery. Some hon. Members may remember Sir Julian's distinguished career as a Minister, particularly in housing and in the Foreign Office. He was an ebullient personality who entered politics with an already distinguished record of war service, much of which was spent behind enemy lines in central Europe. Despite political differences, those of us who knew him remember an enthralling and witty raconteur, whose modest recounting of his wartime experiences nevertheless made one aware of a man of real courage.

Many hon. Members will know my constituency as a place where they go for conferences. I should say that, if any of my hon. Friends have not yet secured accommodation for September, perhaps they would like to speak to me after my speech. The conference centre, the Royal Pavilion, the busy seafront, the shopping areas of Western road, the Lanes and North laine will be known to many hon. Members. I should like, however, to draw the attention of hon. Members to aspects of my constituency that are sometimes overlooked. We have two universities, for example, which produce 6,000 graduates a year—a factor that helps to place us at the forefront of the new and expanding multimedia industries. We are also attracting more high-tech industry to the town.

My constituency is a place that many people plan to visit—just as I did 30 years ago—but in which they decide to stay. The town centre of my constituency, however, is also a place in which one in three residents are out of work. In my constituency, 2,000 youngsters under 25 are jobless and wage rates are below the regional and national averages. Early in the 1990s, it also reached a record in repossessions. Those problems are the legacy of the previous Government, and I am glad that the new Government are dedicated to tackling them.

When people live on such low incomes and in such conditions of poverty, it is important that they should have the best possible information about the quality of the food that they eat, because such a huge proportion of their small income must go on ensuring that they have enough to eat. I therefore welcome the Government's proposals for a food standards agency, which my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food mentioned in his speech today. I believe that such an agency will have an essential role to play in making us all better informed about what is in our food. I am also glad to hear that he is already making preparations in his Department to ensure that Professor Philip James's recommendations will be implemented.

Some 70 years ago, my predecessor as mayor of Brighton, Sir Herbert Carden, had the foresight to persuade the town to buy up much of the surrounding countryside—including many of the farms, although they are outside the borough of Brighton. We therefore have a special concern in ensuring that our downland surrounding our urban area is protected. Protection issues involve not only management of the south downs—an issue on which I shall be lobbying the Minister with responsibility for environmental protection—but ensuring reform of the subsidy processes in the common agricultural policy that emphasise intensive farming methods at the expense of more environmentally friendly farming, which helps to conserve both our countryside and our natural heritage.

As a co-operator, I know that, for many years, issues of food safety and of enviro-agrifarming have been crucial in our campaign. I welcome the fact that they are now reflected in the proposals for reform of the CAP, and those proposals have my whole-hearted endorsement.

6.39 pm
Mr. Ieuan Wyn Jones (Ynys Môn)

I congratulate the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Lepper) on his maiden speech and on taking us through the virtues of his constituency. My researcher was educated at one of the universities in his constituency—she was clearly well educated in Brighton because she made sure that I was returned to the House with an increased majority at the last election.

I understand that there is a time constraint, but before I comment on the reform of the common agricultural policy, I want to say one or two words about the beef industry in particular. Obviously, the new ministerial team will be aware that beef prices have been very low in Wales this year, lower even than at the height of the BSE crisis. The first problem is the high level of beef imports. I was pleased to hear the Minister confirm that, if necessary, he will introduce orders to ensure that beef imports are subject to the same standards as British beef.

Secondly, the Minister is well aware that the revaluations of the green pound have had a substantial impact on farmers' incomes. There are opportunities for us, through the European Union, to access funds that would assist farmers in their current difficulty. Of course, I realise that there would have to be matched funding from the Treasury but, given the plight of Welsh beef farmers at the moment, I urge the Government to consider that option.

We must seek substantial reform of the CAP but not at the expense of the viability of the small and medium family farm in Wales. We should be building on the MacSharry proposals and ensuring that family farms are protected even though we are changing the way in which we support the farming industry and the money to support it may be found in a different way.

We have no problems with the word "modulation". I understand that the Conservative party has problems with it and that the Minister does not wish to see modulation as part of the negotiations on reform. In Wales, we consider that modulation can be the way forward, especially in certain sectors—for example, in the milk industry in west Wales and in the beef and sheep industries in our upland areas. It is important to consider the matter carefully.

As we shift from aid to production to aid to the environment, it is vital that we examine carefully the extension of the agri-environmental payments. Professor Gareth Wyn Jones of University college of north Wales in Bangor has produced a paper that could be taken up quickly by the Welsh Office. It involves an integrated all-Wales scheme building on the success of Tir Cymen and environmentally sensitive areas. For the relatively modest cost of £23 million, we could have an integrated scheme in Wales.

Finally, any reform of the CAP must include an integrated rural programme. It is important to consider the future of farming in the context not only of agricultural incomes but of the rural way of life and rural developments. I urge the Government to consider using CAP reform as a way of integrating a rural policy. It is vital for the interest of the agricultural industry in Wales that we move forward in that context.

6.43 pm
Dr. Stephen Ladyman (South Thanet)

I am grateful for the opportunity to make my maiden speech. I shall endeavour to keep it brief, because I am aware that other hon. Members have sacrificed their contributions to enable me to speak now. It has been a long journey getting to the point at which I can make my maiden speech—a frustrating journey at times, but an eventful one. I take great pride in now being able to address right hon. and hon. Members.

I should first say something about my predecessor in the constituency of South Thanet, Jonathan Aitken. Many hon. Members will be reading in the newspapers about Some of his recent adventures. Far be it for me to comment on those matters, but Jonathan was a diligent constituency Member of Parliament for 23 years. He was well known for the amount of casework that he got through and for the quality of his work. Throughout the general election, he was never anything but courteous and respectful to me, and I have to say that he took his defeat on the chin on 1 May. I have read that, this week, a television broadcast is to be shown in which he was filmed, before the election, predicting his own defeat. I can say only that, had he told me that, it might have saved me a few grey hairs.

I must congratulate other hon. Members who have made their maiden speeches today. One claimed that his constituency was the birthplace of the family holiday. I should say in passing that my constituency, especially Broadstairs and Ramsgate, does a very good family holiday indeed. I am claiming not that my constituency was the birthplace of the family holiday but that it was the birthplace of the English. The peoples and traditions that ultimately became what we now call English began in east Kent, and South Thanet was at their heart. It is at the heart not only of what we call English but of European events over two millenniums.

It was to my constituency that the Romans came; they built their castle at Richborough and provisioned their invasion of Britain from there. It was also to my constituency, 1,400 years ago, that St. Augustine came, and we have been celebrating the anniversary of that event over the past few weeks. He was pretty reluctant to come in the first place. He was sent by Pope Gregory the Great to convert the English, but tried turning back at one point. We have often found that to be the problem in South Thanet—people are a little reluctant to visit us, but when they arrive, they receive a great welcome. That was true of St. Augustine.

St. Augustine made one bad mistake, however, from our point of view. Once he met Ethelbert on the banks of Pegwell bay, he insisted on going inland to Canterbury to form his base. Had he only stayed where he was, we would now have an Archbishop of Cliffsend and, more important, we might have a Ramsgate cathedral that would bring millions of people to our town.

We have been at the centre of many other European events over the years. The Vikings invaded our coastline. They might have left Canterbury cathedral alone but not Minster abbey—it was sacked by them but later rebuilt. If at the end of the day we do not have Canterbury cathedral, we have Pugin's own church in Ramsgate. Many hon. Members probably believe, incorrectly, that this palace was Pugin's masterpiece. It was not—his masterpiece was the church in Ramsgate, and I encourage all hon. Members to come and see it.

Given that time is short, I shall wind up my eulogy on my constituency by saying that it is not a place of prosperity, which brings me to the nub of my contribution to the debate. Part of my constituency stands in Thanet, and Thanet has the second highest unemployment in England. There are places in my constituency where male unemployment reaches 60 per cent. Our problems were recognised by the European Community which came to our aid with its objective 2 funding. That funding ultimately led to our Government giving us assisted area status.

Reform of the common agricultural policy is vital because objective 2 funding runs out in 2000. Money to help expand Europe will have to come from somewhere—either from the structural and regional development funds, on which my constituency depends, or from a reformed common agricultural policy.

I welcome the Government's initiative to reform the common agricultural policy. In passing, I would also like to encourage them to speak to EU Commissioners about compensation for farmers in Kent whose fruit crops were damaged by frost in May. In the short term, compensation would do a great deal for local farmers. In the long term, reforming the common agricultural policy, creating a sustainable agricultural industry in Britain and throughout Europe and ensuring sustainable rural development in my constituency are vital to the future of both the rural and the urban parts of my constituency.

I shall conclude my comments now, once again expressing my gratitude to those who have shortened their contributions to allow me to get in. I encourage all hon. Members to come to South Thanet as soon as possible to enjoy our variety of family holiday and to see deprivation at first hand and some of the good things that the European Union is doing in the United Kingdom.

6.50 pm
Mr. John Swinney (North Tayside)

I congratulate the hon. Member for South Thanet (Dr. Ladyman) on his maiden speech. He spoke warmly of his predecessor. I am sure that he will wish to emulate in many ways—perhaps not all—his predecessor's success and hard work. He said that some crops in his constituency had been damaged by frost. Farmers in my area, which is probably the largest berry-producing constituency in the country, were similarly concerned by the frost damage earlier this year to berry canes and the consequences that that will have for the harvest.

When considering reform of the common agricultural policy, it is essential not to lose sight of why it was established. We must ensure that a favourable regime exists for continued agricultural activity as the principal mechanism of land use and management in our rural areas. However, there is a greater need to target funds more effectively, such as by taking labour and employment into account when allocating subsidies.

I should like to highlight two concerns about the beef and sheep markets, which are vital in Scotland and other rural areas. The Minister described the Opposition amendment as effrontery. That is the word that I was going to use, so I shall call it bare-faced cheek. I am no adherent of the Government's views, but the Conservatives have nothing to tell us about how to handle a beef ban. I urge the Government, as I have done before, to move as swiftly as possible to have the beef ban lifted. Beef farmers in my constituency reckoned that the market was recoverable if the damage was limited to one year, but if it extends—as seems likely—to two years, the problems will become greater.

I urge the Government to persuade our European partners not to become fixated on a drive simply to cut production without taking due account of opportunities to promote quality produce. The Scottish suckler beef industry produces the finest beef in the world. Why should quality produce be eliminated in a move to equalise production?

The sheep industry in Scotland is predominantly in the hill and upland areas and is inextricably linked to the fortunes of the hill livestock compensatory allowance scheme. It is essential that the Government closely monitor developments in HLCAs as a key component of sustainable rural life in Scotland.

The motion sets out the Government's determination to negotiate a deal which reflects the interests of United Kingdom consumers, taxpayers and food and farming industries". None of us could disagree with that aim, but the Government's success in delivering it will rest on the nature of the deal that is secured. I hope that, when the deal is reached, the Scottish farming community will be able to give a more positive response than the Scottish fishing industry has given to the result of the Amsterdam summit. The Government will be judged on that in their proposals to reform the CAP.

6.54 pm
Mr. Tony Baldry (Banbury)

This has been an interesting debate. We have heard excellent maiden speeches from my hon. Friend the Member for Meriden (Mrs. Spelman) and from the hon. Members for Scarborough and Whitby (Mr. Quinn), for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Lepper) and for South Thanet (Dr. Ladyman). They all made model maiden speeches which were extremely fluent. In the best traditions of the House, they paid generous and fair compliments to their predecessors. My hon. Friend the Member for Meriden referred to the tragic circumstances in which we lost a good friend and colleague. The generous comments that Labour Members made about the previous Members whom they defeated at the election do them credit and do credit to the House.

The hon. Member for Scarborough and Whitby in particular made too much reference to landslides. As the first Member to speak from this Dispatch Box since the election of my right hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague) as the new leader of the Conservative party, I must tell Labour Members that they mislead themselves with talk of landslides. The Labour party may have done well at winning seats at the election, but it did not do so well in its share of the popular vote. Only a 6 per cent. swing is required to unseat Labour at the next election, and I assure Labour Members that we Conservatives will be working very hard to ensure that they are unseated.

We shall start from the rural base, which we strongly represent. We shall do well in the countryside partly because country people are already concerned that this urban Government are seeking to impose urban values on the countryside. Anyone who doubts that fact need only see the number of people who will come from all corners of Great Britain to Hyde park on 10 July, concerned about a private Member's Bill, given tacit support by the Government, which threatens what they see as rural values. They are also concerned about other issues such as the right to roam. Labour Members would do themselves a service by talking less about landslides and giving a little more consideration to how to govern the whole nation.

Mr. Paul Flynn (Newport, West)

We have full confidence that the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague) will win as many seats in the United Kingdom as leader of the Conservative party as he did in Wales at the last election.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael Lord)

Order. Can we now return to the matter in hand, which is the common agricultural policy?

Mr. Baldry

I have no doubt that at the next election we shall do well in Wales, taking seats back as we shall in every other part of the United Kingdom. The Government ain't seen nothing yet. Of course we have some way to go, but with all the talk from Labour Members of landslides and the feeling that they have the right to be on those Benches for ever, they would do well to show some humility, because the British people do not like the arrogance that they have demonstrated.

Neither we nor the farming community expected the Minister to secure a lifting of the beef ban in seven weeks, but we are concerned that as yet no apparent process seems to have been agreed with the Commission on further steps towards the lifting of the beef ban. That is a genuine and legitimate concern.

Dr. John Cunningham

When the previous Government agreed to the imposition of the Florence terms, they got no agreement that if those terms were met the ban would be lifted at any time or on any date. That is why we are stuck where we are.

Mr. Baldry

The right hon. Gentleman knows that that is simply and clearly not a fair assessment.

Dr. Cunningham

It is true.

Mr. Baldry

No, it is not a fair assessment at all. The right hon. Gentleman is discovering what we experienced over the certified herds scheme, for example. When we thought that we had secured an agreement with Community colleagues, committees such as the Scientific Veterinary Committee sought to intervene and find new terms. That is the difficulty that the right hon. Gentleman is finding. Before the election, the Labour party talked about the lifting of the beef ban as an urgent priority. We are entitled at least to some clear enunciation of the process by which it intends the ban to be lifted.

We are glad of the progress that the Government have made and of their determination on beef imports, but in fairness it was my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg) who invited SEAC to give the Government advice—which it did—that has enabled matters on imports to be brought forward. We shall be judging—as will the farming community—what the Government seek to do on beef imports and getting the beef export ban raised. Unless they succeed sooner rather than later, not only the Opposition but the whole country will be saying that they can no longer hide behind the excuse of being in government for only seven weeks.

7.1 pm

The Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. Jeff Rooker)

Time is extremely short and there is no way I can attempt to do justice to all the speeches in the debate.

In response to the specific question asked by the hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Inverness, West (Mr. Kennedy), we are actively working on the cattle database issue. I freely admit that there was a six-week delay due to the election. Although I do not think that that delay should have occurred, I do not apportion blame for it. A competition for the work was freely entered into before the election, but the consultants who won it were never appointed. Although they could have been appointed, I do not blame the previous Government for that not being so, and I certainly do not blame the civil service. The time was lost due to the election.

We are working very quickly on the issue and our intention is that the database will be up and running well in advance of the European Union requirement. I hesitate to say that that will be at the end of this year or early next year because that would tie me to that, but we are working on such a scale and decisions are due to be made soon on the direction in which we shall go.

I turn to the speech of the right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg), the former Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, who is off to other pastures following this debate. He was very unfair to my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary. The right hon. and learned Gentleman knows full well that my hon. Friend could not go to the Lincolnshire show because there was a statement on fishing yesterday. My hon. Friend deals with fishing matters for the Government and was briefing every hon. Member with an interest in fishing—including the successor to the right hon. and learned Gentleman's former constituency.

Far be it from me to say that the countryside has turned against the Labour Government. Although I am the worst person in the country to claim so—others must claim it for me—I think that I was very well received by a wide range of country, agriculture and food interests at the Cheshire show on Tuesday. I remind the Tory party that no fewer than 47 new Labour Members on the Benches behind me represent wholly or mainly rural constituencies, so we take no lectures whatever in that respect.

My main function is to pay tribute to the maiden speeches in this debate. I certainly pay tribute to the maiden speech of the hon. Member for Meriden (Mrs. Spelman)—a fellow west midlands Member of Parliament. I pay tribute to the way in which she spoke of lain Mills—with whom I served in the House over many years—and of our region. I say "our region" because only sometimes can I speak for myself instead of for the Government at the Dispatch Box. I am a west midlands hon. Member, and proud to be so. The hon. Lady spoke up for the west midlands—indeed, the centre of the country—in a way that was a great tribute to herself and her constituents. I was particularly gratified by her good words for the national exhibition centre.

My hon. Friend the Member for Scarborough and Whitby (Mr. Quinn) paid tribute at some length to John Sykes and Sir Michael Shaw and certainly put on the line the benefits of his constituency. I have visited both parts of his constituency as a tourist, especially Esk valley. As a fellow engineer, I agree with his comment about the lack of engineers in the House, which has far too many lawyers.

We all felt for my hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Lepper), who made his maiden speech. He is certainly a co-operator, and that is fine. Government Front Benchers will certainly be looking for his co-operation as the months go by. He made great claims about the efforts of Brighton, Pavilion as a tourist centre. There is a good exhibition centre there—there is a bigger one in the west midlands. We are all looking forward to cut prices in Brighton later this year.

In his maiden speech my hon. Friend the Member for South Thanet (Dr. Ladyman), paid fine tribute to Jonathan Aitken, who—I believe—entered the House on exactly the same day as me in February 1974.

I must mention the speech of the hon. Member for Ludlow (Mr. Gill), who was once one of the Whipless eight and who called for adult politics, which I reinforce. We need an adult arrangement when we are discussing agriculture and food policy. There should be no knee-jerk reactions to every minor headline. If we are adult, we can protect the agriculture and food industry and the thousands of people who work in it, and give our constituents, all of whom are consumers, a better service than in the past when politics was somewhat juvenile in the hothouse of this Chamber. The fact that the hon. Gentleman is my pair is irrelevant to my remarks.

The Government are committed to working with the food industry. I say the food industry and not the agriculture industry because everyone involved in agriculture is part of the food production industry—

It being three hours after the commencement of proceedings on the motion, MR. DEPUTY SPEAKER put the Question, pursuant to Order [12 June].

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The House divided: Ayes 136, Noes 357.

Division No 37] [7.7 pm
Amess, David Clifton—Brown, Geoffrey
Arbuthnot, James Collins, Tim
Atkinson, David (Bour'mth E) Cormack, Sir Patrick
Atkinson, Peter (Hexham) Gran, James
Baldry, Tony Curry, Rt Hon David
Bercow, John Davis, Rt Hon David (Haltemprice)
Beresford, Sir Paul Davies, Quentin (Grantham & Stamford)
Blunt, Crispin Day, Stephen
Boswell, Tim Duncan, Alan
Bottomley, Peter (Worthing W) Duncan Smith, Iain
Bottomley, Rt Hon Mrs Virginia Emery, Rt Hon Sir Peter
Brady, Graham Evans, Nigel
Brazier, Julian Faber, David
Brooke, Rt Hon Peter Fabricant, Michael
Bruce, Ian (S Dorset) Fallon, Michael
Burns, Simon Flight, Howard
Butterfill, John Forth, Eric
Cash, William Fowler, Rt Hon Sir Norman
Chapman, Sir Sydney (Chipping Barnet) Fox, Dr Liam
Clappison, James Fraser, Christopher
Clark, Rt Hon Alan (Kensington) Gale, Roger
Clark, Dr Michael (Rayleigh) Garnier, Edward
Clarke, Rt Hon Kenneth (Rushcliffe) Gibb, Nick
Gill, Christopher
Gillan, Mrs Cheryl Nicholls, Patrick
Goodlad, Rt Hon Alastair Norman, Archie
Gray, James Page, Richard
Green, Damian Paice, James
Greenway, John Paterson, Owen
Grieve, Dominic Pickles, Eric
Hague, Rt Hon William Prior, David
Hamilton, Rt Hon Sir Archie Redwood, Rt Hon John
Hammond, Philip Robertson, Laurence (Tewk'b'ry)
Hawkins, Nick Roe, Mrs Marion (Broxbourne)
Hayes, John Rowe, Andrew (Faversham)
Heald, Oliver Ruffley, David
Heathcoat—Amory, Rt Hon David St Aubyn, Nick
Hogg, Rt Hon Douglas Sayeed, Jonathan
Horam, John Shephard, Rt Hon Mrs Gillian
Howard, Rt Hon Michael Simpson, Keith (Mid-Norfolk)
Hunter, Andrew Spelman, Mrs Caroline
Jack, Rt Hon Michael Spring, Richard
Jenkin, Bernard (N Essex) Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John
Johnson Smith, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey Streeter, Gary
Key, Robert Swayne, Desmond
King, Rt Hon Tom (Bridgwater) Syms, Robert
Kirkbride, Miss Julie Tapsell, Sir Peter
Laing, Mrs Eleanor Taylor, John M (Solihull)
Lansley, Andrew Taylor, Sir Teddy
Leigh, Edward Townend, John
Letwin, Oliver Tredinnick, David
Lewis, Dr Julian (New Forest E) Trend, Michael
Lidington, David Tyrie, Andrew
Lilley, Rt Hon Peter Viggers, Peter
Loughton, Tim Walter, Robert
Luff, Peter Waterson, Nigel
Lyell, Rt Hon Sir Nicholas Wells, Bowen
MacGregor, Rt Hon John Whitney, Sir Raymond
MacKay, Andrew Whittingdale, John
Maclean, Rt Hon David Wilkinson, John
McLoughlin, Patrick Willetts, David
Madel, Sir David Wilshire, David
Major, Rt Hon John Winterton, Mrs Ann (Congleton)
Malins, Humfrey Winterton, Nicholas (Macclesfield)
Maples, John Woodward, Shaun
Maude, Rt Hon Francis Yeo, Tim
Mawhinney, Rt Hon Dr Brian Young, Rt Hon Sir George
May, Mrs Theresa Tellers for the Ayes:
Merchant, Piers Mr. Richard Ottaway and
Moss, Malcolm Mr. Peter Ainsworth.
Abbott, Ms Diane Boateng, Paul
Ainger, Nick Bradley, Keith (Withington)
Allan, Richard (Shef'ld Hallam) Bradley, Peter (The Wrekin)
Allen, Graham (Nottingham N) Bradshaw, Ben
Anderson, Janet (Ros'dale) Brake, Thomas
Armstrong, Ms Hilary Brand, Dr Peter
Ashton, Joe Brinton, Mrs Helen
Atherton, Ms Candy Brown, Rt Hon Gordon (Dunfermline E)
Atkins, Ms Charlotte Brown, Rt Hon Nick (Newcastle E & Wallsend)
Austin, John Brown, Russell (Dumfries)
Baker, Norman Browne, Desmond (Kilmamock)
Ballard, Mrs Jackie Buck, Ms Karen
Barnes, Harry Burden, Richard
Bayley, Hugh Burgon, Colin
Beard, Nigel Burnett, John
Begg, Miss Anne (Aberd'n S) Burstow, Paul
Beith, Rt Hon A J Butler, Christine
Bell, Stuart (Middlesbrough) Byers, Stephen
Bennett, Andrew F Cable, Dr Vincent
Benton, Joe Campbell, Alan (Tynemouth)
Bermingham, Gerald Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge)
Berry, Roger Campbell, Menzies (NE Fife)
Best, Harold Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V)
Betts, Clive Canavan, Dennis
Blackman, Mrs Liz Cann, Jamie
Blizzard, Robert
Blunkett, Rt Hon David
Caplin, Ivor George, Bruce (Walsall S)
Casale, Roger Gerrard, Neil
Caton, Martin Gibson, Dr Ian
Cawsey, Ian Gilroy, Mrs Linda
Chapman, Ben (Wirral S) Godman, Dr Norman A
Chaytor, David Goggins, Paul
Chisholm, Malcolm Golding, Mrs Llin
Clapham, Michael Gordon, Mrs Eileen
Clark, Dr Lynda (Edinburgh Pentlands) Gorrie, Donald
Clark, Paul (Gillingham) Graham, Thomas
Clarke, Charles (Norwich S) Grant, Bernie
Clarke, Rt Hon Tom (Coatbridge) Griffiths, Ms Jane (Reading E)
Clarke, Tony (Northampton S) Grocott, Bruce
Coffey, Ms Ann Grogan, John
Cohen, Harry Gunnell, John
Coleman, Iain (Hammersmith & Fulham) Hall, Mike (Weaver Vale)
Colman, Anthony (Putney) Hamilton, Fabian (Leeds NE)
Connarty, Michael Hanson, David
Cooper, Ms Yvette Harman, Rt Hon Ms Harriet
Corbett, Robin Harvey, Nick
Corbyn, Jeremy Heal, Mrs Sylvia
Corston, Ms Jean Healey, John
Cotter, Brian Heath, David (Somerton)
Cousins, Jim Henderson, Doug (Newcastle N)
Cox, Tom Henderson, Ivan (Harwich)
Cranston, Ross Hesford, Stephen
Crausby, David Hill, Keith
Cryer, Mrs Ann (Keighley) Hinchliffe, David
Cryer. John (Hornchurch) Hoey, Kate
Cummings, John Home Robertson, John
Cunningham, Jim (Cov'try S) Hood, Jimmy
Cunningham, Rt Hon Dr John (Copeland) Hoon, Geoffrey
Curtis—Thomas, Ms Clare Hope, Philip
Dafis, Cynog Hopkins, Kelvin
Darling, Rt Hon Alistair Howarth, George (Knowsley N)
Darvill, Keith Howells, Dr Kim
Davey, Valerie (Bristol W) Hoyle, Lindsay
Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli) Hughes, Ms Beverley (Stretford & Urmston)
Davies, Geraint (Croydon C) Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N)
Dawson, Hilton Humble, Mrs Joan
Dean, Ms Janet Hurst, Alan
Denham, John Hutton, John
Dismore, Andrew Iddon, Brian
Dobbin, Jim Illsley, Eric
Dobson, Rt Hon Frank Ingram, Adam
Donohoe, Brian H Jackson, Ms Glenda (Hampst'd)
Dowd, Jim Jackson, Mrs Helen (Hillsborough)
Drew, David Jamieson, David
Drown, Ms Julia Jenkins, Brian (Tamworth)
Dunwoody, Mrs Gwyneth Johnson, Alan (Hull M)
Eagle, Angela (Wallasey) Johnson, Ms Melanie (Welwyn Hatfield)
Eagle, Ms Maria (L'pool Garston) Jones, Ms Fiona (Newark)
Edwards, Huw Jones, Helen (Warrington N)
Efford, Clive Jones, leuan Wyn (Ynys Môn)
Ellman, Ms Louise Jones, Ms Jenny (Wolverh'ton SW)
Etherington, Bill Jones, Jon Owen (Cardiff C)
Fearn, Ronnie Jones, Dr Lynne (Selly Oak)
Field, Rt Hon Frank Jones, Nigel (Cheltenham)
Fisher, Mark Jowell, Ms Tessa
Fitzpatrick, Jim Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald
Fitzsimons, Ms Lorna Keeble, Ms Sally
Flint, Ms Caroline Keen, Alan (Feltham)
Flynn, Paul Keen, Mrs Ann (Brentford)
Follett, Ms Barbara Keetch, Paul
Foster, Rt Hon Derek Kennedy, Charles (Ross Skye & Inverness W)
Foster, Don (Bath) Kennedy, Jane (Wavertree)
Foster, Michael Jabez (Hastings) Khabra, Piara S
Foster, Michael John (Worcester) Kidney, David
Fyfe, Maria Kilfoyle, Peter
Galbraith, Sam King, Andy (Rugby)
Gapes, Mike King, Miss Oona (Bethnal Green)
Gardiner, Barry Kingham, Tessa
George, Andrew (St Ives)
Kirkwood, Archy Purchase, Ken
Kumar, Dr Ashok Quin, Ms Joyce
Ladyman, Dr Stephen Quinn. Lawrie
Lawrence, Ms Jackie Radice, Giles
Laxton, Bob Rammell, Bill
Lepper, David Rapson, Syd
Leslie, Christopher Raynsford, Nick
Levitt, Tom Reed, Andrew (Loughborough)
Liddell, Mrs Helen Rendel, David
Linton, Martin Robinson, Geoffrey (Cov'try NW)
Livingstone, Ken Rooker, Jeff
Livsey, Richard Rooney, Terry
Lloyd, Tony (Manchester C) Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)
Llwyd, Elfyn Roy, Frank
Lock, David Ruddock, Ms Joan
Love, Andy Russell, Bob (Colchester)
McAllion, John Russell, Ms Christine (Chester)
McAvoy, Thomas Salter, Martin
McCabe, Stephen Sanders, Adrian
McCafferty, Ms Chris Savidge, Malcolm
Macdonald, Calum Sawford, Phil
McDonnell, John Sedgemore, Brian
McFall, John Shaw, Jonathan
McGuire, Mrs Anne Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert
Mclsaac, Ms Shona Shipley, Ms Debra
McKenna, Ms Rosemary Simpson, Alan (Nottingham S)
Mackinlay, Andrew Singh, Marsha
Maclennan, Robert Skinner, Dennis
McNamara, Kevin Smith, Ms Angela (Basildon)
McNulty, Tony Smith, Rt Hon Chris (Islington S)
Mactaggart, Fiona Smith, Miss Geraldine (Morecambe &Lunesdale)
McWalter, Tony Smith, Ms Jacqui (Redditch)
McWilliam, John Smith, John (Glamorgan)
Mahon, Mrs Alice Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent)
Mallaber, Ms Judy Southworth, Ms Helen
Mandelson, Peter Starkey, Dr Phyllis
Marsden, Gordon (Blackpool S) Stevenson, George
Marsden, Paul (Shrewsbury) Stewart, David (Inverness E)
Marshall, David (Shettleston) Stoate, Dr Howard
Marshall, Jim (Leicester S) Stott, Roger
Marshall—Andrews, Robert Strang, Rt Hon Dr Gavin
Maxton, John Straw, Rt Hon Jack
Merron, Ms Gillian Stringer, Graham
Milburn, Alan Stuart, Mrs Gisela (Edgbaston)
Miller, Andrew Stunell, Andrew
Mitchell, Austin Sutcliffe, Gerry
Moran, Ms Margaret Swinney, John
Morgan, Ms Julie (Cardiff N) Taylor, Ms Dari (Stockton S)
Morgan, Rhodri (Cardiff W) Taylor, David (NW Leics)
Morley, Elliot Thomas, Gareth (Clwyd W)
Morris, Rt Hon John (Aberavon) Thomas, Gareth R (Harrow W)
Mountford, Ms Kali Timms, Stephen
Mudie, George Todd, Mark
Mullin, Chris Trickett, Jon
Murphy, Jim (Eastwood) Truswell, Paul
Murphy, Paul (Torfaen) Turner, Desmond (Kemptown)
Naysmith, Dr Doug Turner, Dr George (NW Norfolk)
Norris, Dan Twigg, Derek (Halton)
O'Hara, Edward Twigg, Stephen (Enfield)
Opik, Lembit Tyler, Paul
Organ, Mrs Diana Vaz, Keith
Osborne, Mrs Sandra Vis, Dr Rudi
Palmer, Dr Nick Wallace, James
Pearson, Ian Ward, Ms Claire
Pendry, Tom Watts, David
Perham, Ms Linda Webb, Steven
Pickthall, Colin White, Brian
Pike, Peter L Whitehead, Alan
Plaskitt, James Wicks, Malcolm
Pollard, Kerry Wigley, Dafydd
Pond, Chris Williams, Rt Hon Alan (Swansea W)
Pound, Stephen Williams, Dr Alan W (E Carmarthen)
Powell, Sir Raymond Williams, Mrs Betty (Conwy)
Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lewisham E)
Prentice, Gordon (Pendle)
Prosser, Gwyn
Wills, Michael Wray, James
Winnick, David Wright, Dr Tony (Cannock)
Winterton, Ms Rosie (Doncaster C) Wright, Tony (Gt Yarmouth)
Wise, Audrey Wyatt, Derek
Wood, Mike Tellers for the Noes:
Woolas, Phil Mr. David Clelland and
Worthington, Tony Mr. Robert Ainsworth.

Question accordingly negatived.

Main Question put and agreed to.

Resolved, That this House takes note of European Community Document No. 6627/97, relating to agricultural prices for 1997–98; welcomes the Government's intention to negotiate an outcome which reflects the interests of United Kingdom consumers, taxpayers and food and farming industries; and welcomes the Government's longer term aim of securing reforms of the Common Agricultural Policy which reduce food prices, save money and provide more targeted support for the rural economy and enhance the rural environment.