HC Deb 30 April 1998 vol 311 cc450-1
11. Mr. Richard Livsey (Brecon and Radnorshire)

When he will provide agrimoney compensation for British farmers. [39118]

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

As already announced, the Government have decided to draw down some £85 million of agrimonetary compensation to the beef and sheep sectors. To date, 95 per cent. of that aid has been paid. This is the first occasion on which a UK Government have paid such aid.

Mr. Livsey

I am sure that the Minister will agree that the current strength of the pound is having a disastrous effect on agriculture. What discussions has he had with his right hon. Friend the Chancellor and the EU Commission to obtain agrimoney compensation, especially as there is to be a revaluation shortly? If he is not prepared to secure that, what will he do to prevent the imminent bankruptcy of many livestock farmers in the west and north of Britain?

Dr. Cunningham

As my right hon. Friend the Chancellor has conceded, we recognise that the strength of sterling is causing problems in the economy. However, having taken the decision, which the Liberal Democrats welcomed, to establish the Monetary Policy Committee, we must await its decisions on such matters.

As for agrimonetary compensation, I shall set out the figures which the hon. Gentleman, with his distinguished record in farm management, probably already knows: we have already used 75 per cent. of the agrimonetary aid we could pay to beef producers this year and 95 per cent. of what we are allowed to pay to sheep farmers.

Mr. John Townend (East Yorkshire)

Will the right hon. Gentleman now be honest and admit that more money was available for help in the past year? The Red Book shows, on page 49, that you underspent by £139 million—that is £139 million less than the Conservative Government budgeted for. Will you now be more accurate—

Madam Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman should say, "Will the Minister now be more accurate?"

Mr. Townend

Will the Minister now be more accurate than he was in answering the question of my right hon. Friend the Member for Fylde (Mr. Jack)?

Dr. Cunningham

If the hon. Gentleman stayed calmer in posing his question, he would be able to reflect on the inaccuracy of what he says. He refers to Intervention Board figures, not MAFF figures.