HC Deb 19 March 1998 vol 308 c1402
11. Mr. David Heath

If he will visit the Royal Bath and West show this year to discuss the current state of agriculture in the west country. [33763]

Mr. Rooker

I am unable to attend the show. I am aware of the current state of agriculture in the west country following a visit by my noble Friend Lord Donoughue to north Devon and Exmoor early in January.

Mr. Heath

I am disappointed that the hon. Gentleman cannot visit the Royal Bath and West. He may recall that the previous Minister was warmly received there. He would be equally warmly received in my constituency. Given the figures released by his Department last week, showing a 35 per cent. decrease in dairy farm incomes and a 65 per cent. decrease in lowland beef and sheep farm incomes, does he accept that his right hon. Friend the Minister was incorrect to tell me last year that there was no crisis in west country agriculture?

Mr. Rooker

I respect the hon. Gentleman's argument and that of his farmers, who have suffered along with others. The extra help that we announced in December and confirmed in February—the cheques will be arriving this month—is going to the upland and less favoured areas. By common consent, that is where the need is greatest.

Mr. Tom King

Agriculture in the west country is in a serious predicament. The most obvious immediate effect of the Budget has been a rapid increase in the value of the pound. What is the Minister's estimate of the likely impact of that on farm incomes in the coming year?

Mr. Rooker

It is too early to say at the moment.