HC Deb 19 March 1998 vol 308 c1401
9. Mr. Garnier

When he will visit Harborough to discuss stock farmers' incomes. [33761]

Dr. John Cunningham

I have no plans to visit Harborough in the near future. However I know that the hon. and learned Gentleman met my hon. Friend the Minister of State on 2 March to discuss farmers' incomes and other issues.

Mr. Garnier

May I begin by thanking the Minister of State for receiving that delegation? It was an extremely helpful and useful meeting. May I draw to his attention the case of one my neighbours, who is a beef farmer? The price of his beef bulls, which were selling at about £720 before March 1996, is now £530. He has not been able to sell any breeding heifers at all, his cull cows have gone down in value from £750 to £300 and the value of his herd, which has increased in number from 257 to 290, has been devalued by £50,000. Will the Minister bear that in mind in his further discussions with the European Commission?

Dr. Cunningham

First, I thank the hon. and learned Gentleman for his kind remarks about my hon. Friend the Minister of State; we are always willing to receive delegations consisting of right hon. and hon. Members and their constituents. I shall certainly bear in mind his example which, sadly, is typical of problems in the beef industry. That is why we are determined to press ahead to seek acceptance for the date-based export scheme to bring further support to the beef sector, in addition to the agrimonetary compensation and the other financial support that we have recently announced.

Mr. Paice

After two Labour Budgets, the average 300-acre family farm, in Harborough and elsewhere, will be £1,300 worse off—and that in a week when the Minister has announced that farm incomes have almost halved. As the Budget did nothing to dampen the strength of sterling, farmers now face the prospect of a further green pound revaluation. Yet the strength of sterling has helped save the Minister some money in his Department's budget. Will he go further than his welcome U-turn on the subject of meat hygiene and cattle passport payments and seek additional ways, within his departmental budget, of relieving the massive burden on British agriculture? He could do that without asking for any further increase in public expenditure, which I know perfectly well he would find it difficult to obtain.

Dr. Cunningham

Both Budgets under the present Government have benefited people in rural as well as urban areas. Only the Conservative party cannot find a single word of praise for my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer following his excellent Budget earlier this week. Like his right hon. Friend the Member for Fylde (Mr. Jack), the hon. Gentleman never lets an opportunity pass without demanding more public expenditure. They say that I should find money from within my existing budget. What do they suggest I should cut to provide that extra money?