HC Deb 21 April 1999 vol 329 cc974-1020
Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael Lord)

Madam Speaker has selected the amendment in the name of the Prime Minister.

7.29 pm
Mr. Tim Yeo (South Suffolk)

I beg to move, That this House notes with concern the collapse in farm incomes, especially in the livestock sector; expresses astonishment at Labour's claims to be the party of the countryside; condemns the Government's dismissive response to the deepening crisis in pig farming; deplores the lack of progress in restoring beef exports and ending the ban on beef on the bone; calls for a postponement of the imposition of further charges on slaughter houses; urges that Milk Marque be allowed to invest in processing capacity; recognises that British farmers work at a competitive disadvantage compared with those abroad because of excessive and unnecessary regulations; expresses dismay at the outcome of the European Agenda 2000 negotiations when a poor deal for British farmers, consumers and taxpayers was made worse by the Prime Minister; and calls for the reversal of all those government policies which are damaging the rural economy, the agricultural industry and the British countryside.

The debate is timely and necessary. Despite the widely acknowledged crisis in agriculture, this is only the second occasion on which the Minister has taken part in a full-scale debate on the subject since his appointment in July. Both debates—today's debate, and the debate in November—were held in Opposition time. If it had been left to Labour, the House would simply have ignored the destruction of Britain's livestock industry. That is a clear sign that this Government—I do not say "this Minister"—neither care about nor want to understand the problems of agriculture, and it is a clear sign that farming and the countryside are at the bottom of the Government's priorities, despite the existence of a crisis that becomes daily more acute.

Over the past two years, farm incomes have fallen by more than 50 per cent., and in the livestock sector, the position is even worse. Many businesses are losing money and struggling for survival. After two years of Labour government, farmers now need more than the warm words and sympathy for which the present Minister is famous. I pay tribute to his willingness to listen, and to travel—unlike his predecessor—even to parts of the country that are not served by Concorde, and I believe that he genuinely cares about the problems of fanners. The trouble is that caring is not enough: the Minister must also act, because he will be judged by deeds, not words. I shall be explaining how a Conservative Government would act.

Mr. Ian Cawsey

With BSE.

Mr. Yeo

I shall return to that shortly. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Brigg and Goole (Mr. Cawsey) may think that the main problem for pig, sheep and dairy farmers is directly related to BSE. If he and his colleagues care so little about a serious livestock crisis that all they can do is roar with laughter, I hope that farmers throughout the country will receive that message.

Mr. Edward Garnier (Harborough)

While Labour Back Benchers snigger at the fate of British farmers, may I ask my hon. Friend to bear in mind—particularly when he visits Market Harborough on Friday—that livestock incomes and morale have fallen in my area, while Government-imposed costs have risen? Moreover, we face the spectre of the encroaching tuberculosis that is affecting bovine herds. Can my hon. Friend say something that will improve the common sense of Labour Members?

Mr. Yeo

I look forward to my visit to my hon. and learned Friend's constituency. He will be glad to know that nearly every measure that I suggest this evening could be taken by Britain acting alone, would not cost anything and would be implemented by a Government for whom farming and the countryside were a real priority.

Mr. John Hayes (South Holland and The Deepings)

Does my hon. Friend agree that the Government do not seem to care about the countryside because they do not represent the countryside? Labour Members laugh, but Labour's pole position rural constituency ranks 32nd among the most rural constituencies in Britain. Across Britain, the Conservatives gained 120,000 more votes than Labour in the most rural seats, and in terms of speeches, interventions and oral and written questions, Labour Members have signally failed—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. This has become an extremely long intervention. I remind the House that many hon. Members want to speak, and that too many interventions that are too long will damage their chances of being called.

Mr. Yeo

My hon. Friend the Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Mr. Hayes) was making a powerful point, to great effect. I know that he has researched the issue extremely carefully, and is about to produce powerful evidence to demonstrate the Government's failure to represent rural Britain.

The fact is that, week by week, pig farmers are going bust, slaughterhouses are closing down, dairy farmers are on their knees, beef remains unexported, and time is running out. This crisis is not about fat cats getting thinner; it is about small businesses going bust, and about men and women seeing a lifetime's work destroyed by the inaction of a Labour Government. Not only farmers are suffering. The Government need to understand that the whole rural economy—the very fabric of the countryside—is now under threat. These difficulties may not matter to Labour Members, but they matter to the country, and they should matter to the House.

Let us start with the pig industry. Last autumn, pig prices fell to 60p per deadweight kilogram. That is the lowest price for more than 20 years, and is half the 1997 level. Although there has been some recovery since then, British pig farmers are still losing money for the eighth month running, and many are going out of business altogether. Britain's breeding herd declined by 11 per cent. in 1998. When the market does improve, continental pig farmers will be best placed to benefit.

The Government's dismissive response to the report on pigs produced by the Select Committee on Agriculture was rightly condemned by the British Pig Industry Support Group, which commented: The Government proved to be complacent to the point of incredulity. British pig producers are required to operate to higher standards than those abroad, and consumers are shocked when they learn that some of the pigmeat sold in British supermarkets has been produced in ways that are not even allowed in this country.

When we debated the issue on 4 November, the Minister told us: I hope that the Opposition … will welcome the agreement that I reached yesterday with the British Retail Consortium that supermarkets will not sell imported meat processed in the UK under a British label … The major retailers … have assured me also that, from 1 January 1999, all pigmeat sold in their outlets will be from animals raised to high welfare standards, with no stalls and tethers and no meat and bonemeal feedstuffs."—[Official Report, 4 November 1998; Vol. 318, c. 952.] We welcomed that statement, but unfortunately it turned out not to be true. In his eagerness to deflect criticism, the Minister exaggerated the commitment made by the retailers. I hope that any announcement he makes today will have been more carefully checked in advance. Last November, it turned out that, far from applying to all pigmeat as the Minister had claimed, the pledge applied only to fresh pork, and only to own-label products, not to leading market brands.

I invite the Minister to improve labelling, so that all pigmeat sold in Britain is labelled with the country of origin—where the pigs are actually reared, rather than where the meat has been processed—and with the method of production, so that consumers who want to support high animal welfare standards of the kind required of British farmers can choose to do so. All pigmeat—indeed, all meat sold anywhere in Europe—should be labelled in that way, but Britain could set an example immediately and voluntarily. Will the Minister call in the retailers next week to discuss the matter? Why cannot British consumers be told how the meat that they are buying has been produced?

Mrs. Angela Browning (Tiverton and Honiton)

My hon. Friend is right. My correspondence with the British Retail Consortium following the Minister's statement shows that a vast range of products—pies, sausages, cured hams and bacon—represent a high percentage of the pork that is sold in this country. In that sector particularly, the Minister's pledge on labelling needs to be addressed.

Mr. Yeo

My hon. Friend has great experience and expertise in these matters, and she is entirely right.

I also think that the Minister should test whether the import of illegally produced pigmeat into Britain could be halted altogether, possibly by the use of article 36 of the treaty of Rome. We know to our cost just how easy it was for other countries to halt the export of British beef, so why not at least give this a try? If a legal challenge follows—if the Minister tries, and is beaten—he will not be criticised by us, or by farmers or consumers. Indeed, we would salute his efforts.

Mr. Oliver Letwin (West Dorset)

Does my hon. Friend think that the Minister would be well advised to explain why, in a written answer to me a few days ago, he said that he had no intention of exploring that avenue?

Mr. Yeo

The Minister more or less confirmed that in a letter that he wrote to me last week.

The Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. Nick Brown)

The answer is quite simple: it is illegal.

Mr. Yeo

The Minister has published no legal opinion to back up that assertion.

According to my observation of what has happened in the European Union over the past few years, many other countries are willing to challenge the system. Why are the British Government more keen to keep friendly with their allies on the continent than they are to look after the interests of British farmers?

Mr. Peter Luff (Mid-Worcestershire)

What view does my hon. Friend take of the subsidies being paid by the French Government to the French pig industry, and the legality of those payments?

Mr. Yeo

My hon. Friend anticipates the very next point that I was going to make.

Earlier this month, the French Government announced that more than £14 million of national aid would be paid to their pig farmers—on top of two previous aid packages, worth ¦50 million, which have been challenged by the European Commission. Will the Minister now challenge that unlawful national aid from the French Government to their pig farmers, which puts British pig producers at yet more of a disadvantage?

Mr. Nick Brown

I can give the hon. Gentleman the commitment for which he asks. If he gives me clear evidence of illegal state aids being paid by another member state—he cites the case of France—we shall complain, directly and at once, to the Commission.

Mr. Yeo

If the Minister would like to second some of the staff whom he has at his disposal, and give them to me for a month, I certainly shall provide very detailed evidence.

Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham)

While I might have some sympathy for the Minister, will my hon. Friend suggest to him that the best way forward would be to ask the British embassy in Paris to make the ordinary inquiries?

Mr. Yeo

My right hon. and learned Friend is quite right. Moreover, the matter has already been widely reported in the farming press. I find it astonishing that the Minister is asking me for the evidence. If he will say on the record that those stories are not true, I hope that that also will be reported in the farming press. We shall see what type of debate results from it.

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham)

I am most grateful to my hon. Friend, who is giving way generously. Does he understand that a young pig farmer—Mr. James King, from Cowley farm, Preston Bissett, near Buckingham—in my constituency is extremely proud of the fact that he has received absolutely no state subsidies? His gripe is not that he receives no subsidies, but that other European pig industries do—and that the Government are not fighting for Britain, but standing aside while his industry is damaged by the Government's indifference.

Mr. Yeo

My hon. Friend is right. It is important that people should understand that the pig sector is outside the common agricultural policy regime and does not receive subsidy. Too many people think that pig farmers are treated in the same way as other farmers and are able to collect payments under the CAP, but they are not, and they do not wish to. They simply wish to have the level playing field to which my hon. Friend refers.

I hope that the Government will pledge that all the pigmeat bought by any public sector body now meets British welfare standards. It would be a disgrace if public money were being used to support illegally produced meat and to import it into the United Kingdom.

I will now deal with the mounting problem of slaughterhouses. Over the past two years, slaughterhouses in the United Kingdom have been closing at the rate of one every 10 days. All too often, we hear reports of slaughterhouses where there are more veterinary inspectors than there are staff. It is not hard to imagine the frustration of owners, who have to pay more regulators than employees.

As if that burden were not enough, there is now a threat of even higher inspection charges. In a typical small Devonshire abattoir, where 10 units a week are slaughtered, the charges are likely to rise from £62 a week to more than £300 a week. Those extra charges were due to be introduced on 29 March.

On top of those charges, there is also the threat of a further burden, in the form of £19 million of specified risk material removal charges. The regulation of slaughterhouses is rapidly growing out of all proportion to the risks being addressed.

Mr. Owen Paterson (North Shropshire)

The Meat Hygiene Service is becoming a £100-million-a-year monster, which is apparently out of the democratic control of the Government. A small abattoir in Llanrwst has written to me, stating that its cost per beast is £26, and that it will have to close soon, as its continental competitors' costs are only £3 per beast.

Mr. Yeo

My hon. Friend is right to bring that matter to the House's attention. I have heard similar reports from other parts of the United Kingdom, demonstrating very vividly the type of burden that British slaughterhouses are now suffering.

As those businesses are destroyed, so the journeys that farm animals have to travel get longer. While the animals suffer longer journeys, the farmers suffer the higher transport costs caused by the higher fuel taxes introduced by the Labour Government.

Mr. Edward Leigh (Gainsborough)

Is it not ironic that, in the very week that we are having this debate to draw attention to the industry, farmers in my constituency are having to pay an extra charge? Their charge per animal to deal with specified risk material is increasing from £48 to £60. Why are the Government loading on to farmers those extra charges even in the week that we are debating these issues?

Mr. Yeo

The Government are doing so because they have no concern—they do not care—about the problems that they are creating for those small businesses. As the profits of slaughterhouses are destroyed in the way that my hon. Friend has described, so the prices that those slaughterhouses can afford to pay to farmers for their animals decrease. Will the Minister halt the imposition of any extra charges on Britain's slaughterhouses until and unless he can show that our slaughterhouses are not bearing a heavier burden than their European counterparts?

Mr. Martyn Jones (Clwyd, South)

Will the hon. Gentleman tell us who introduced the Meat Hygiene Service, and how many abattoirs closed between imposition of the service and two years ago?

Mr. Yeo

The Conservative party did not introduce these additional regulations or levy these additional charges. If a Conservative Government were in power today, they would certainly not introduce extra charges on a struggling industry until we had the information that the Minister should have.

Last November, the Minister of State—who is in the Chamber—said in a written answer: Information about the level of these charges in other member states is not yet available."—[Official Report, 9 November 1998; Vol. 319, c. 105.] In another written answer, he stated: We do not have specific information on the standard of meat inspection in other EU countries."—[Official Report, 11 November 1998; Vol. 319, c. 248.] How can the Government contemplate hitting British slaughterhouses with more costs when they do not even know what those costs are elsewhere in Europe? In the five and a half months since those answers were given, what has the Minister done to collect the necessary figures? Will he publish, today, all the data that he has?

In the past two years, the dairy sector, too, has seen a collapse in its income of almost two thirds. The recent trend in dairy prices has been bleak. The sector's prospects have been made worse by the recent CAP reform outcome. Last September, the Minister said that he intended to liberate our dairy industry from the bureaucracy and unfairness of the quota system".

At the beginning of March 1999, the Minister agreed to a package that preserved that quota system for another four years, freezing British milk quotas until 2003. Even the Prime Minister was unimpressed. On 12 March, The Times said that his spokesman described it as not satisfactory as far as we are concerned". For once, No. 10 Downing street got it right.

Britain is not self-sufficient in dairy products. Yet, our dairy farmers are in the absurd position of enjoying some of the best dairy-producing countryside in Europe, but of being prevented by the quota system from meeting even home demand. Not for the first time, the Minister's actions fell sadly short of his words—but worse was to come.

At the end of March, when the Heads of Government re-opened the package, the Prime Minister—to secure his cherished headline about saving the overall British budget rebate—made further disastrous concessions. The proposed increase in the British milk quota was put back until 2006. In contrast, four other countries, including Ireland, received an increase in their quota next year. Over the next seven years, Britain's dairy farmers will pay the price of getting the Prime Minister that headline.

Britain entered the CAP negotiations without sufficiently clear objectives and without enough determination to protect British farmers, consumers or taxpayers. That failure will cost us all dear during the next few years.

A further problem is the weakness of the milk producer organisation. Great anxiety now surrounds the Government's attitude towards the Monopolies and Mergers Commission's recommendations on Milk Marque. Nothing must be done to weaken the position of Milk Marque and other producer groups. Milk Marque's wish to invest in processing facilities must be encouraged, so that the balance between producers and other milk processors and retailers can be redressed to allow dairy farmers an adequate return.

Mr. David Drew (Stroud)

I remind the hon. Gentleman that the Conservatives set up Milk Marque in such a way that it was bound to be attacked because the processors were set at odds with it.

Mr. Yeo

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will write to the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry to make that point and say how important it is that, in considering the recommendations, Milk Marque should be supported and strengthened rather than weakened.

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

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Yeo

The Liberals have already cut 20 minutes from the debate by having an unnecessary Division and I cannot give way to the hon. Gentleman. We cannot afford to allow another leadership bid.

The beef sector has also experienced a disastrous collapse in income. Many beef farmers are incurring losses. Last November, the Minister announced triumphantly a European agreement to the lifting of the worldwide ban on the export of British beef. I saluted him for achieving an outcome that had eluded his predecessor.

Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle)

I do not think that you did.

Mr. Yeo

I did. It is recorded in Hansard.

Five months later, not a single ounce of British beef has been exported and there is growing dismay at the Government's failure to secure the implementation of that decision. As usual, once the Prime Minister had got the headline that he wanted, little more effort was made. At the beginning of February the European Commission was surprised that its inspectors had not been invited to examine the facilities in this country. Only last week did the inspectors arrive in Britain. When does the Minister think that beef exports will resume? In view of the continuing delay, will he consider extending the calf processing aid scheme beyond the end of July?

While we wait for progress on that, the Minister has gratuitously knocked confidence in beef by prolonging the domestic ban on beef on the bone. Does he agree with the chief Government scientist, who said that on purely scientific grounds, he did not see much point in banning beef on the bone? Why do the Government not trust the people to decide for themselves whether to eat beef on the bone? Every day that the ban remains, the task of rebuilding confidence in a fine British product is made harder.

Is the Minister also aware that fresh dismay has been caused among beef farmers by the letter sent to them by the British cattle movement service? BCMS inspectors will visit to examine cattle, their ear tags and passports, and the records that farmers have to keep to show that all identification requirements are met. Those visits will be made without warning to the farmer. The first paragraph of the circular emphasises that. The third paragraph says that farmers must co-operate fully, and provide suitable handling facilities and people to assist with the animals. How can farmers keep people standing by to assist with inspections if they are not going to be told when the inspections will take place? That further blow to a demoralised industry shows crass insensitivity and will cause conflict.

Mr. Desmond Swayne (New Forest, West)

I have drawn to the Minister's attention the particular problems with regard to tagging that will pertain from 1 January in the New Forest, with stock roaming widely. The Minister has replied that he will wait until 1 January and see whether there is a problem before taking it up with our European partners. I have told him that there will be a problem, as have my constituents. Why is he unable to anticipate any difficulty?

Mr. Yeo

My hon. Friend has put his point so clearly that I hardly need to add anything.

My hon. Friend the Member for South-East Cambridgeshire (Mr. Paice) will deal with the problems of sheep farmers when he winds up, because time has already run on a little.

The livestock industry faces an acute crisis—possibly the worst for a generation. The consequences will hurt all those directly involved, the communities where they live and the environments in which they work. The collapse of prices and incomes threatens the survival of many long-established family farms. Excessive regulation prevents farmers from running their businesses in a common-sense way. Livestock producers are also particularly vulnerable to the consequences of the right to roam—a policy that is misconceived, counter-productive and potentially very costly. The high level of sterling is making imports more attractive to consumers and making exports much harder for producers. It is cutting incomes in the sector.

The Minister has expressed great sympathy for farmers on his travels up and down the country, for which I thank him, but sympathy does not pay the bills. It has to be replaced by action. Farmers around Britain will listen carefully to his speech, but unless he addresses their problems directly, they will be forced to conclude that their worst fears are true: that however much the Minister may want to help them, he is too weak to persuade his Government colleagues to act; that all that he can offer is more fine words; and that the Government have decided cynically that it does not matter what happens to the countryside or to the livestock industry. If that is the case, Labour will stand condemned. Rural communities across Britain will continue to bleed until the return of a Conservative Government.

7.56 pm
The Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. Nick Brown)

I beg to move, To leave out from "House" to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof: recognises the difficulties faced by many in the livestock sector; welcomes the Government's strong commitment to the livestock sector in the United Kingdom; endorses the efforts the Government has made to secure the lifting of the ban on the worldwide export of British beef; approves of the steps which the Government has taken since May 1997 to support the beef and sheep industry via EU agri-monetary compensation; welcomes the initiatives the Government has taken to promote the pig industry; recognises the extra support to the livestock sector, particularly hill and upland producers via substantially increased hill livestock compensatory allowances, announced in November 1998; and welcomes the recently-agreed reshaping of the Common Agricultural Policy as part of the Agenda 2000 negotiations. which seeks to provide the livestock sector with stability and a secure future.

If I am to stand condemned, at least it will not be for breaking the law. I accept that the Opposition have raised important subjects, but their analysis is wrong. Since I became Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, I have tried to deal with the undoubted difficulties facing the United Kingdom farming sector in a way that addresses the issues on their own terms, not as a party political battleground. The farmers whom I have met have welcomed that approach, because it offers the possibility of discussion about real issues and working towards real solutions. The desire of the Conservatives to turn this into an overtly party political debate serves only to distort their analysis and leads them to advocate impossible solutions to genuine problems. I want to step back from that approach and use the debate objectively to analyse the problems facing the livestock sector and the steps that we can take, and have taken, to help. The amendment offers a constructive way forward.

Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley)

I do not want to be party political on the issue. Paul Kenny of Standridge farm in Slaidburn came to see me at my surgery last week. His income has declined dramatically over the past two years and he feels that he can no longer make a living as a dairy farmer. He has written to me and I have passed his letters on to the Minister. He points out that article 39 of the treaty of Rome says that the objective of the common agricultural policy is to ensure a fair standard of living for the agricultural community, in particular by increasing the individual earnings of those engaged in agriculture. What hope can the Minister give Mr. Kenny and other farmers in the Ribble valley that they will be able to make a living out of farming?

Mr. Brown

That is the core point. The main support systems for agriculture throughout the European Union are conditioned by the CAP. We want to be able to provide a future for United Kingdom farmers so that they get a return on the enormous number of hours that they put in and a return on their investment. We must reshape the CAP so that it moves away from an over-reliance on direct livestock subsidies and enables us to put support into rural communities, decoupled from production. We need support systems that will endure the coming pressures. We made a start on that in the latest negotiating round. If the hon. Gentleman wants to criticise me for not having done as much as I wanted, I accept that as fair criticism. I would like to have achieved more, but, as I have explained in previous debates, four countries took the United Kingdom's reforming view and 11 countries opposed us. We did well to make a start.

Mr. Barry Jones (Alyn and Deeside)

I shall not criticise my right hon. Friend. Mr. Terrig Morgan of Ffrem Carreg y Llech, Treuddyn, who is a milk farmer; Mr. Idris Roberts of Pwll farm, Treuddyn, who is a beef and sheep meat farmer; and Mr. Clive Swan of Ffrith farm, Treuddyn, who must move out of beef and into organic farming, have real problems. I know that my right hon. Friend seeks to assist them and other farmers. Can he tell me which of his policies will make their problems a little easier?

Mr. Brown

I never lecture people on how to run their businesses. It is the Government's responsibility to set the framework of public sector support to enable businesses to flourish within it. We have to set the support lines rationally. Last week, I announced extra support for the organic sector and it has been widely welcomed.

Mr. Robert Jackson (Wantage)

In the spirit of constructive proposals, I am concerned about the role of the banks in relation to the pig industry. Economists talk about the hog cycle. We are now at the bottom of the hog cycle, which is at a very depressed level. The banks are being accommodating to pig producers at the moment, partly because the stock, if it were to be sold, would be valueless. However, it is possible that when the cycle begins to move up, as it will, the banks will foreclose. I invite the Minister to take the initiative and try to persuade the banks not to foreclose. If they do, they will simply accentuate the peak of the hog cycle and make the situation worse.

Mr. Brown

The hon. Gentleman has raised a very important point. I have met the heads of the agricultural divisions of most of the main high street banks and most specialist banking institutions. There is one important exception, but I am having a meeting there next week. I find it easier to meet banks individually rather than collectively because discussions are more candid. At each meeting, we have taken a hard look at the issues that the hon. Gentleman has raised and I have made my representation that it is important to take account of the whole cycle. As prices rise in some sectors and producers return to profitability, debts will have to be repaid, not least to the suppliers of feedstuffs. I shall continue to make these points. I should say that the response from the banking community has been very constructive.

Mr. Andrew Welsh (Angus)

Will the Minister address the problem of unfair competition? How can our pig industry compete with cheaper imports which are not subject to our animal welfare regulations? What can he do, especially at a time of European over-production, to create the fair and level playing field that we all seek?

Mr. Brown

Let me set out my analysis of the problems before making some specific comments about the pig sector. I recognise that of all the livestock sectors, the one that is most deeply in crisis and which has been through the most difficult time is the pigmeat sector. I want to do what I legally can to help, and I have some proposals in my speech. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will forgive me if I make my analysis in order.

First, I shall deal with the external factors to which Governments have a duty to respond. We cannot directly shape them. The loss of key world markets and, in particular, the impact for the United Kingdom beef sector of the continuing ban on exports are significant factors in the present difficulties. There are also difficult terms of trade in European Union and world markets, and for some sectors—such as sheep finishers—weather and farming conditions have posed additional difficulties. However, we also have to recognise that the difficulties reflect in part structural surpluses on the market, which have highlighted the effects in some sectors of the normal production cycles. Although those issues are notoriously difficult in the livestock sector, there can be no solution which leaves supply in excess of demand.

The Government have taken a series of steps—I absolutely reject the charge of complacency—within the constraints posed by the common agricultural policy to address the difficulties faced by the livestock sector. Our policy is underpinned by three key principles. First, where short-term financial help has been needed, we have given it, but in a form not likely to stimulate further oversupply; secondly, wherever possible we have taken steps to champion and underpin the undisputed quality of British produce; and, thirdly, where we could reasonably make trading terms easier, we have done so.

We have provided financial help, using the mechanisms at our disposal to offer special aid to the livestock sector in January 1998 and again in November 1998, to a total of £200 million for the beef, sheep, dairy and hill sectors. In individual sectors, we have eased the conditions of trade by removing the obstacles to exporting whole sheep carcases to France, and we have supported and actively pursued the European Commission in its action to underpin the pigmeat market. I shall say more about that in a moment.

We succeeded, where the Opposition failed, in securing political agreement among our European Union partners—first, to the export certified herds scheme for Northern Ireland, and then to the date-based export scheme. This paves the way for the resumption of beef exports from the UK.

We have responded to market developments. In February, recognising the continuing difficult conditions faced in the dairy sector, we extended to the end of July 1999 the calf processing aid scheme. That controversial decision was welcomed by the dairy sector and is worth some £9 million to the industry. In answer to the hon. Member for South Suffolk (Mr. Yeo), I cannot hold out the prospect of it being further extended.

We have acted on an EU decision allowing us to make early payment of some £100 million in EU subsidy to beef producers—a step which I know helped to ease the cash flow difficulties suffered by many. We have championed the quality of UK products, bringing together all the sectors of the food chain with a view to ensuring that UK producers secure the premium that they deserve for their products, and securing valuable agreements from the British Retail Consortium on the labelling of meat and the sourcing of pigmeat.

Mr. Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy)

With regard to the date-based export scheme, my understanding is that only three out of 12 abattoirs have shown an

interest in becoming dedicated abattoirs and not one of those is in Wales. What steps are the Government taking to ensure the adequacy of the provision in due course?

Mr. Brown

The scheme will of course be driven by market judgments. We have made a good start. The Meat and Livestock Commission inspected three abattoirs last week—one in England, one in Scotland and one in Northern Ireland. I accept that there is not one in Wales, but as exports resume and the export market grows, I am sure that others will become interested, and we stand ready to facilitate their entry into the date-based export scheme. Some in the industry, however, are stepping back and waiting to see how the markets develop before making a decision. It is important for us to make a start and we are proceeding on our timetable. The key hurdle was to achieve the political agreement to make a start and we did that last November.

The December Council of Ministers agreed to reform the agrimonetary regime, which this year is worth some £95 million to UK recipients of CAP livestock direct payments in measures to smooth the transition to the single currency. Over its lifetime, depending on currency movements, it might be worth some £140 million to the industry. The agreement was quite hard to achieve and we should be proud of achieving a 100 per cent. deal for the United Kingdom, as we could hardly do better.

In March, we secured an additional 100,000 head in beef special premium rights for the UK, to apply from 2000 and to remain as long as restrictions on export from the UK beef market persist. The UK beef industry identified that as a priority when we consulted it on the Agenda 2000 proposals. We made it a negotiating priority and achieved it.

I have looked hard at the burden of costs on the industry. I have no quarrel with the hon. Member for South Suffolk for raising the issue. My predecessor ensured that the Government met the costs in 1998–99 of Meat Hygiene Service enforcement of controls on specified risk material from cattle and sheep at a value to the industry of £35 million, and bore the start-up and first-year running costs of the new cattle tracing system—a system underpinning key guarantees on the quality of British products—at a value to the beef and sheep industry of a further £35 million.

We have successfully lobbied the Commission—in recognition of exceptional weakness in the sheep sector—to open tenders for private storage aid in the UK on two occasions during the 1998 marketing year. This provided support to the UK market for lamb to the extent of about £3 million.

We have committed £1.85 million in grant aid over three years to the assured British meat scheme—an initiative to drive through new baseline standards in the red meat sector, from farm to plate. I attach enormous importance to that and I invite the hon. Member for South Suffolk to join me in supporting the farm assured schemes. It is not a political matter. The hon. Member called for clear labelling to enable consumers to identify produce that is UK-sourced. The labelling scheme launched by the Meat and Livestock Commission does exactly that. This is not a party political point; we should be able to join in support of the MLC's work.

Mr. Richard Livsey (Brecon and Radnorshire)

I agree with the Minister on the farm assured scheme. The problem in the livestock industry is that prices are still depressed and farm incomes are low. The Minister will visit the Farmers Union of Wales shortly. The farm management survey shows that some categories of beef and sheep farms in Wales earned only £48 last year. My calculations for some of the upland farms show that earnings are £2.60 an hour, £1 lower than the national minimum wage. What will he tell them about how market prices will improve so that their incomes improve?

Mr. Brown

The one thing that I will not do is make some broad, confident political statement and go away hoping that no one remembers it. These are difficult times. The only way through is for the Government to conduct our affairs with candour and to enter into honest and depoliticised discussions with the industry on how best to get through these difficult times. The future of the sheep sector will involve the reshaping of the hill livestock compensatory allowance, about which I will have more to say later. In any event, an announcement on the consultation will be made tomorrow, giving details of the scheme. I know that that will be of enormous interest to the hon. Gentleman's constituents.

Beyond that, I hope to restructure the support system, within the levers that are open to me following the Berlin summit, to give a clear shape to the support system for sheep producers. Within that, they can shape their businesses accordingly. I have other initiatives on fighting our corner in the marketplace. Since becoming Minister, I have tried to draw retailers, processors and farmers together, and tried to get them to have a constructive interest in each other's economic liability. They must not take an unfair advantage of the spot market—something that has characterised the debate.

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

The Minister is honest and straightforward enough not for a moment to deny that agriculture in this country has been in rather profound recession. Is it not politically perverse for any Government dealing with any industry in such a recession to be loading charges on to it? The hon. Member for South Suffolk (Mr. Yeo) was right in saying that these additional charges are at the behest of the Government, who can wave them in, suspend them or take them away. Would it not be sensible at this stage—given the scale of recession in agriculture and the collapse of incomes to which my hon. Friend the Member for Brecon and Radnorshire (Mr. Livsey) referred—to put all this on hold until the industry has a chance to recover?

Mr. Brown

The hon. Gentleman makes his point persuasively, and I intend directly to address the question of charges later in my speech.

I wish to set out what the Government have done to dismiss the charge of complacency. It is reasonable for hon. Members on both sides of the House to make suggestions, which I will take constructively. If I can respond to them, I will. However, it is not fair to say that because things are difficult, the Government must be at fault and must be complacent. Whatever we are, we are not complacent.

I have spent a great deal of time and energy dealing with the different policy strands of the issue. I have been as candid as possible, not just with this House—as I am under an obligation to be—but with the farmers. Those meetings have not always been easy. People are looking for certainty, but I am not always able to provide that. If I could reshape the CAP on my own, it would look different from what emerged after Berlin; it would even look different from what emerged after Brussels.

We have secured an EU regulation that authorises the sale of UK intervention beef to the British armed forces, a point raised by the hon. Member for South Suffolk. The measure enables virtually all the beef supplied to the armed forces in the UK to be British. The same is true of fresh pork. I am doing what I can to persuade other public authorities to buy British, but they are under constraints in exactly the same way as the private sector in terms of competitive tendering and value for money. These constraints were not put on them by this Government.

We have moved to implement the EU beef labelling scheme, which requires retailers to prove their claims about the source of British beef. This enables consumers easily to identify and purchase British beef—a wise buy, as it is among the safest in the world.

Tomorrow, I will be announcing a further step in the major consultation which I launched in January to capture the industry's views on Agenda 2000. That consultation was widely welcomed by the industry as a new and valuable departure and one which, for our part, helped to shape our negotiating position in Brussels to good effect. Following Berlin, there will be further consultations on the three areas where there is discretion for me.

The charge in the Opposition motion is that Labour is not the party of the countryside. The Government are fully committed to ensuring that those who live in rural communities thrive. We have launched, with the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions, a comprehensive consultation on the elements for a rural White Paper. It covers the full range of activities and issues that are key to rural areas, including those directly related to agriculture.

In the many open meetings that I have attended in rural areas on the White Paper, the initiative has been well received. The discussions have covered issues such as public transport, social housing, the planning regime for village communities and, above all, the employment base of rural communities and small villages. What has been said overwhelmingly is that those who live in villages want them to be working communities with a balance of age ranges and employment opportunities.

There has been great interest in the potential of the rural development pillar—a new pillar of the European Union's Agenda 2000 package. I hope that that can be shaped by the UK Government. It is one of the issues that will be involved in the consultation that I am launching tomorrow to help achieve the rural objectives.

Mr. Yeo

The Minister referred to the consultation document on the White Paper. How many references are there to agriculture on the first one-page summary of that consultation document?

Mr. Brown

The purpose of the White Paper is to stimulate discussion across all of the areas confronting a rural community. Its value cannot be quantified by judging how many times planning is mentioned and how many times agriculture is mentioned. It is not that sort of exercise. We are trying to take an overarching approach, drawing all the threads in the policy debate together. I am sure that the hon. Member for South Suffolk means well, but I caution him against trying to quantify the matter in that simplistic and literal way. It does not help to inform the debate. There is no doubt that the economies of rural communities are shaped, at least in part, by the functioning of agriculture. We do not need to persuade each other of the importance of that.

The motion condemns the Government's response to the deepening crisis in pig farming. I have acknowledged that the sector is in crisis, and I am under no illusions about the difficulties. The slight improvement in the market recently does not mean that the problems are over.

There are three main factors behind the market weakness: first, the operation of the normal economic cycles, which are a feature of the pig sector in the UK and the EU; secondly, the degree of over-optimism two years ago among producers about the likely extent of demand, either domestically or for export; and, thirdly, against this background, UK pig producers have been hard hit by the loss of key overseas markets and the re-emergence of some producers—particularly in the Netherlands—which had previously been out of the European market because they had been the victims of classical swine fever.

In short, the market has been severely affected by over-supply, and the sole long-term solution lies with bringing supply and demand into better balance. I reject the charge of complacency. Since becoming Minister, I have worked with the industry to find ways in which it can iron out the sharper extremes of the variations in market returns, which are a feature of the notoriously volatile economic cycles which affect the sector.

We have identified solutions in several areas. First, we can maximise the use of EU instruments available to us to smooth the markets. We have successfully urged the European Commission to make judicious use of export refunds and aids to private storage to provide a boost for the market. As recently as 15 February, the rates of export refunds on certain processed pigmeat products exported to Russia were increased by up to 80 per cent., helping commercial exports to remain at buoyant levels.

I have worked hard with all parts of the food chain to secure for the UK's domestic industry the premium that it deserves for the high welfare standards that it observes. It is unfair for the hon. Member for South Suffolk to try to unpick the agreement that I made with the British Retail Consortium at Christmas. The industry is a producer of high quality pigmeat. It does not use meat and bone-meal feed and has high animal welfare and ethical standards. We should boast about that.

Mr. Christopher Gill (Ludlow)

The Minister will be aware of a proposition that was put to his Ministry some time ago now to see whether there was some way in which the offal from pigs could be processed in dedicated plants so that that material could be given a value and perhaps sold to the poultry industry. The whole industry was united in supporting that idea and it would have helped the economics of the industry. The idea seems to have died a death. Can the Minister tell us where it has gone?

Mr. Brown

The idea has not died a death. I am interested in it and gave the hon. Gentleman an assurance that I would see whether it could be adopted. My Department is considering with the Meat and Livestock Commission whether it can put together a complete industry case that deals with the difficult question of cross-contamination to submit to the Spongiform Encephalopathy Advisory Committee, to obtain its views on whether the idea is feasible to help the pig sector for which BSE is not a direct issue. The short answer to his point is that we are considering preparing a case, which would have to go before SEAC and advice would then be given to Ministers. I cannot undermine the public protection measures, so the core of the submission will be the industry's description of how the dangers of cross-contamination can be met with 100 per cent. safety. The idea is worthy of further examination. I pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman for the part he has played in the debates about a sector that is experiencing difficult times.

I have worked with the Meat and Livestock Commission and the National Farmers Union to secure recognition for their assurance schemes. I have taken part in a series of events with the chairman of the MLC, Don Curry, and others to promote the pig mark and other initiatives, and I say that my policy is having some success. UK pork prices are some 20 per cent. above the EU average, 25 per cent. higher than the Danish price and 40 per cent. higher than the Dutch price. That in part reflects the work that my Ministry and the MLC have put into obtaining that UK premium in the marketplace. I urge hon. Members to get behind me and the MLC and—instead of complaining and criticising—to win for the industry the premium that it should be able to command. That means buying UK. It should not be a political question, because we should all have the same objective.

For the future, I believe that the issue of the recognition of welfare standards will need to be considered in the wider context of the forthcoming negotiations when the World Trade Organisation discusses agricultural trade. We will have to insist that the issue is taken into account. I note the call that we should ban imports of products from third countries if we believe that they do not meet the standards that our producers observe. That is an important issue and the Commissioner will report to the Council of Ministers on one aspect of it in June. The way forward lies in devising a formula that observes international obligations and does not fuel pure protectionism under the guise of concern about health and welfare standards. There is no protectionist solution to the problem.

I am often asked about the relative production costs for UK producers compared with their European Union counterparts. The MLC, a statutory body funded by the industry, is well placed to advise on those issues. It recently completed a body of work on the topic and I offer the following commitment to the House. I intend to discuss that work with the MLC and to involve the industry in the discussions.

Mr. Robert Walter (North Dorset)

What is the point of banning growth promoters and antibiotics on public health grounds in this country if we then permit imports of meat in which those growth promoters and antibiotics have been used?

Mr. Brown

Four veterinary interventions have been banned by the EU and there are alternatives that are not used in human medicines. The purpose of the ban was to prevent the consumption by EU citizens of quantities of those medicines. The argument is that such consumption is not prevented because of the imports. However, the levels consumed are dramatically reduced if EU produce does not include the promoters. It is not a public health issue but it is a trade issue. We have asked Commissioner Fischler to report to the Council of Ministers' June meeting on that trade point. It is a fair point for the hon. Gentleman to raise and, indeed, I raised it myself when I spoke for our country at the Council of Ministers.

Mr. Andrew Welsh (Angus)

If there is no protectionist solution against the import of lower welfare standard products, could there be a labelling solution to let the consumers choose?

Mr. Brown

All Ministers are under pressure on labelling schemes. I urge consumers to look for the assured British pork label, because they can then buy UK pork, ham or bacon reared to ethical standards and which has not been fed on meat and bone-meal feed. That is the product to choose in the supermarket, and we should tell that to our constituents and to retailers. Although most retailers are helping with the labelling scheme, there are exceptions. I shall talk to those retailers and urge them to take part in the scheme.

Mr. Drew

It appears that the Danes and the Dutch are investing heavily in all manner of means to raise their environmental and welfare standards to compete with the British.

Mr. Brown

I am not in the least bit surprised, because it is clear that is the route to achieving a premium in the marketplace. The work that the Ministry and the MLC have done seems to have achieved that, but I accept that it is fragile. The crisis is not yet over and I would be grateful for any help from hon. Members, as well as from my hon. Friends.

Mr. Luff

The right hon. Gentleman is a fair man and he will probably not be surprised that I am disappointed that he has made no reference so far to the severe criticisms by the Select Committee on Agriculture of the response by the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food to the Committee's report on the pig industry. I am especially disappointed that he has made no reference to level playing field issues, which are very important. In an earlier intervention, I mentioned the problem of French subsidies for the pig industry, which the Minister appeared to think were not happening. What steps is he taking to reassure himself that the heavily reported subsidies being paid by the French Government to the French pig industry are not happening and further disadvantaging the UK pig industry?

Mr. Brown

I am trying to gather information through the usual route of the agricultural attaches at the embassy in Paris. If we find any evidence of illegal subsidies, we will protest at once to the Commission. If the hon. gentleman has any evidence to supply—perhaps a description of the schemes that he believes are under way—I will examine it carefully. Nobody should doubt that it is the UK's view that no extra subsidies should be paid by individual nation states to try to get their industries through a crisis, to the disbenefit of other nations' pig industries. That would not be fair in what is supposed to be a single market. There should be no extra intervention by individual nation states.

I welcomed the good and thorough report of the Select Committee on Agriculture. Naturally, I do not accept its criticisms, particularly the charges of complacency directed at my Ministry. I do not accept that I am responsible to Parliament for the work of the Meat and Livestock Commission. The point is technical, but it is a non-governmental body. I have departmental responsibility for the area in which it works, but it would not wish me to give it instructions or tell Parliament what I thought it should do. The MLC is an industry group, funded by a levy from producers, not from the taxpayer.

Mr. Luff

I am afraid that I cannot agree with the Minister. When we reported on floods and coastal defence, we had a helpful response from the Environment Agency. The Meat and Livestock Commission should have provided a response to our report, and the Ministry should have made sure that such a response was forthcoming. He was seriously remiss in not ensuring that that happened.

Mr. Brown

I do not wish to disagree across the Floor of the House with the Chairman of the Select Committee. I seek a constructive working relationship with the Committee, and many of the points raised in its report are points of detail, not principle. In fact, we all share the point of principle: we all want to get the industry through difficult times caused, at least in part, by factors beyond the direct control of the UK Government. There is an EU-wide surplus, and that is difficult to deal with. I should like Ministers to sit down with members of the Select Committee to work through the criticisms to try to find common ground and to set out why we do not agree in some areas.

We are on target towards the lifting of the beef ban. We are on timetable.

Mr. Yeo

indicated dissent.

Mr. Brown

The hon. Gentleman laughs. I should have thought that he should be a little more restrained, given the way in which the problem came about in the first place. It has cost our country £4.6 billion, and 39 of our citizens have died.

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


Mr. Brown

My hon. Friend tells me the number is now 40. I am sorry to hear that, but there will be more to come. BSE is a serious matter.

That is the background to consideration within the European Union. Ministers from other countries quite naturally want to protect their citizens and to be satisfied that we are doing all we should to protect ours. Their examinations have been incredibly rigorous, and it is a tribute to those working in public protection that we are passing those examinations.

Mr. Gill

Does the Minister recognise that many problems associated with BSE arose because his party, when in opposition, was constantly telling the then Government to prove that beef was safe? The Minister knows that no scientist in the world worth his salt will give such an assurance. His party undermined the industry time after time when it was in opposition.

Mr. Brown

No, no, no. I cannot accept that. The hon. Gentleman's Front-Bench colleague, the hon. Member for South Suffolk (Mr. Yeo), actually takes the opposite position, saying that beef is safe, whether it is or is not. That is the approach that the hon. Gentleman's party has adopted on the beef on the bone ban. If the chief medical officer says that there is a risk, no matter how small, I must accept what he says. There is no point in asking for the CMO's professional advice, then rejecting it because I want to assert a political view.

Anyone who pauses for a moment will realise what impact such action would have on the marketplace. It would be disastrous. Confidence in our public safety regime is of paramount importance to the health of the domestic beef market. People have confidence in the current public protection measures, and that confidence is justified. I will do nothing to jeopardise it, either on grounds of public health or on grounds of market confidence.

Mr. Charles Kennedy

Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Brown

I ought to get on because I am conscious that others wish to speak. I have been generous in giving way and should perhaps move on.

I have been asked about Milk Marque. The motion has something to say about it, but I am afraid that is more than I can do. I have received representations from producer organisations, and I take them very seriously. However, the report rests with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry who is also considering representations, and it would be quite improper of me to speculate about it.

I hope that the House will forgive me for moving on over the range of matters I have been asked about.

Mr. Paterson

Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Brown

I watched on television in my Department as the hon. Gentleman spoke in the earlier road haulage debate, so I should be only too happy to give way to him.

Mr. Paterson

The Minister is most generous, so I shall be brief. The Meat Hygiene Service appears to be out of control. Because it is self-regulating, the more it regulates, the more people it can employ and the more income it can demand from the abattoir industry. What measures will the Minister take to bring the service back under control and to reduce the burden on UK abattoirs?

Mr. Brown

I am satisfied that control of that next steps agency is perfectly proper. Indeed, I pay tribute to the senior management who have, uniquely, pulled it together from a local authority base to work as a unified body, which was not easy.

The hon. Gentleman asked about costs: I have touched on regulatory burdens on the industry, and I recognise deep concerns about the prospect of increased charges for veterinary inspections in abattoirs. Those costs would arise from a possible increase in meat hygiene inspection costs and from the proposal to pass to the industry charges for the enforcement of the rules requiring removal of specified risk material for cattle and sheep. I have listened carefully to all that the industry has said on that point, and to the concern that increases of the scale proposed would cause severe difficulties for many abattoirs and for the primary producers who might have to share the burden.

The Government remain of the view that it is, in principle, right to recover those costs from the industry. Like other member states, we are obliged by EU legislation to recover the costs of meat hygiene inspections, including the veterinary element. In dealing with those charges, we do not intend to put smaller operations—particularly those that specialise in high-quality product—out of business.

I am therefore announcing today a complete deferral for this financial year of specified risk material inspection costs, amounting to £20 million. For this year, the burden will be borne by the Government, not passed on to the industry.

I have a further announcement: the Government will undertake a further close examination of the dynamics of the slaughtering sector, of the impact of all the charges on abattoirs and on producers. We shall also examine European Union legislation and the way in which inspections are carried out to ensure that when charges are set, the costs are as low as possible, consistent with public safety, and with honouring our obligations under EU law. My aim is that the study should be completed quickly, and I intend to take a close interest in its conclusions.

Mr. Ben Bradshaw (Exeter)

I am extremely grateful for the announcement made by my right hon. Friend. It will be warmly welcomed by small slaughter operators throughout the country—not least by my local operator, John Coles, and butchers in Exeter, including my own, whom he provides with excellent meat from Piper's farm. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the impact assessment that he has announced will examine the particular difficulties faced by small craft operators and the special role that they play in terms of quality and local, transparent production and marketing of high-quality food?

Mr. Brown

I thank my hon. Friend for welcoming the announcement. It is as much as I can do during the next financial year. I am constrained by law from doing more. I will ensure that all the points that he has made and the concerns to which he has alluded are put before the review. I take that review seriously and intend to take a close personal interest in it.

I conclude by considering the challenges that the sector will face during the next few years—that is at the heart of the debate. We face a world in which transport developments are bringing markets and suppliers closer together, and developing consumer tastes are widening potential product ranges and ensuring that people understand more than ever about the food that they eat. It is a world in which the pressures—from the formal procedures of the World Trade Organisation and from commercial practices—to liberalise markets and to compete freely and keenly will become ever stronger. It is a world in which the EU' s ambitions for enlargement offer the prospects of enormous change, forcing us to rethink both the basis of EU agricultural support, and to meet the challenge of a larger pool of consumers keen to enter EU markets. Against that background, UK agriculture faces enormous changes and challenges—challenges that have already started to be met through the reshaping of agricultural policy contained in Agenda 2000 and through the options open to the UK to implement that change.

My task, as I hope I have set out this evening, is to help UK agriculture face those issues and for Government and industry—from producers to processors and retailers—to work co-operatively for enduring solutions. I ask the House to contrast the Government's constructive approach with the "impossibilist" policies of the Opposition, and to support the Government's amendment.

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

My contribution will be brief; time is getting on and other Members want to speak.

I begin by responding to the important and significant statement made by the Minister in the final part of his speech. Liberal Democrats give that statement a warm welcome. It is a correct decision which will help and bolster the section of the industry that includes abattoirs and primary producers. They are already suffering and, without being churlish, I echo the comment, "Too late," made from the Opposition Benches while the Minister was speaking. However, as a result of his statement, some small-scale abattoirs—of the sort with which all Members have constituency or regional contacts—which are in financial difficulty may now be able to claw themselves out of that difficulty over a period.

Having made the decision, I hope that in his discussions with banks, the Minister will point out that the responsibility for taking a lenient, indulgent and supportive attitude lies with the banks, because what might seem like a closure situation next week may not be one in 12 months' time. The bankers must have as steady a nerve as those operating the facilities. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will stress that point to the bankers and, with that caveat, I welcome what he said about the deferral for one year.

In relation to right hon. Gentleman's assessment, I make one suggestion. With all due respect, as he has only just made the statement, there has obviously been no opportunity to discuss the matter with the Chairman of the Select Committee on Agriculture, the hon. Member for Mid-Worcestershire (Mr. Luff). However, in relation to the Food Standards Agency, surely we have broken new ground in the workings of the House, because a Select Committee is considering what is proposed in advance of legislation. That is a healthy and sensible development.

I do not doubt that the Chairman of the Select Committee and his colleagues already have a full in-tray. However, I wonder whether the assessment to which the Minister referred—the nature of the abattoir industry and its relationship to other parts of the food cycle, and so on—might not be better carried out by the Select Committee. We do not necessarily want only a Government-sponsored and controlled assessment and consultation process; we might want an all-party consultation process driven by the Chairman of the Select Committee, who would then report to the Government in due course. We cannot make decisions about that tonight; the matter is well beyond the remit—[Interruption.] Of course, it is up to the Committee, but it is also up to the Government to give it a fair wind, if they are so minded. I hope that the matter will be considered after tonight's statement; it would be a useful way forward.

Time is passing and I intend being brief. I turn to the wider issue of the reform of the common agricultural policy—and all that. The Minister was characteristically straightforward when he said that the outcome of the Agriculture Council—never mind the outcome at Berlin—was not as he would have wanted. I doubt whether it was what most Members of the House would have wanted.

The big political worry is that the outcome of those discussions can be regarded only as an interim settlement, and that the issue will have be revisited yet again if the European Union is to remain true to the broader political agenda of enlargement. The EU must be aware that there is no chance of practical enlargement into central and eastern Europe, even under the modified proposals agreed after the Berlin summit. The CAP will have to be reopened if Europe is to achieve any realisation of its broader ambition—a legitimate ambition, which, like all parties, we strongly support—to widen the frontiers of Europe and the membership of the EU itself.

Domestically, the Minister spoke of his wish for the establishment of more support systems for rural development in the wider sense, and in that respect the settlement achieved at the Agriculture Council and the Berlin summit is a great disappointment. We know that more finance is potentially available for investment in rural development projects and programmes, agrienvironment schemes, conservation, environmentally skewed schemes and so on; unfortunately, we are not to have access to those funds because of the unsatisfactory nature of the financial arrangements arrived at in the recent discussions. I hope that the Minister will continue to exert pressure on that subject. In particular, I hope that he will urge the Chancellor, who is the key person in this respect, to continue to press his opposite numbers at European level, because the current arrangements, which were railroaded through by the French late at night, are far from satisfactory and go against what Europe itself has said that it wants to achieve.

If we want greater emphasis to be placed on the environment, conservation and husbandry of the countryside, the only way to deliver that is to have people in the countryside who understand it, care for it and have experience of it. In most cases, given the structure of UK farming, that means maintaining the basic building block—the UK family farm. However, until additional money becomes available for that sort of rural investment, those family farms will either continue to amalgamate at the current rate or go out of business completely. Either way, we end up with a more denuded countryside, which is precisely the opposite of what Europe says it wants to achieve.

That reflects the profoundly unsatisfactory state in which the discussions of the CAP were left. Although those discussions cause uncertainty in the agricultural community in this country, as in every other EU member state, we have to be honest with our farming sector and say that Pandora's box will have to be reopened sooner rather than later, if the broader aims of European enlargement and more enlightened and more economically deliverable conservation of the UK environment and countryside are to be achieved.

I agree with a great deal of what the hon. Member for South Suffolk (Mr. Yeo) said—it would be hard not to agree with him, because, from our experience of listening to rural Britain, we know that he was telling us the facts. However, the Conservatives' motion contains a hint that all the problems began at the stroke of midnight on 2 May 1997. They did not. The party that was continuously in office for the previous 18 years cannot tell us with any more persuasiveness than they bring to health matters that the set of rural policy levers that are thrown one year have an immediate impact the next. Both health policy and rural policy have longevity—they roll on and on. Therefore, much as I agree with many of the hon. Gentleman's points, the great weakness of the Conservatives' case is that history did not begin only two years ago; it dates back much further than that, and their case is weakened by their unwillingness to acknowledge that.

I have two further points to make in respect of Europe. The crisis in the pig industry has already been described, so I shall not go over that again. The Government must be extremely proactive about the labelling issue. The European labelling directive is rather like Billy Bunter's postal order: it is in the post, but we will believe it when we see it. We will wait a very long time if we wait for Europe. Can the Government take some primary legislative initiative here and now, rather than waiting for Godot in Brussels to deliver something in terms of labelling?

Mr. Nick Brown

As to pig products, the crucial point is the Meat and Livestock Commission's farm-assured labels. That system is in place now and does not require legislation. As political advocates, we must simply get behind the system and encourage people to consume products where they see those labels. It is as straightforward as that.

Mr. Kennedy

Politics is a mixture of carrot and stick. I was at the launch when the Minister correctly gave his and the Government's full support to the MLC initiative. Encouragement, advocacy, persuasion and advertising have their place, but a degree of stick may also be required to convince some of the characters with whom we deal in this business. I am not sure that a degree of legislative initiative on the Government's part would be misplaced. They might not have to deliver such legislation: the threat might concentrate several minds that need to be focused in a commercial sense.

Allied to that, we have heard talk of a level playing field in Europe. That is undoubtedly a legitimate point. However, I always feel that, although there is a level playing field—whether it is in the oil industry in my

constituency or in agriculture in the context of this debate—it seems to have better drainage in some parts of Europe compared with others.

Mr. Livsey

That's a good one.

Mr. Kennedy

If my hon. Friend uses it, he must let me know and I will send him the invoice.

If there is legitimate evidence—it is mightily difficult to find in every case—we should pursue the guilty party hard.

The dog that does not bark in terms of the Conservative motion tonight is economic and monetary union. We know that the strength of the pound is a real problem. There is no doubt about that. We know also that markets in the far east, Russia and elsewhere have collapsed, particularly for the pig industry, and that various sectors of agriculture are in a state of over-supply.

However, if we talk not just to farming industry leaders but to local farmers, we find a growing realisation among a pretty canny, sceptical section of the population that Britain would be better off in, or committed to, economic and monetary union, rather than completely hostile to and distanced from it. As the Government well know, the Liberal Democrats would like them to be more enthusiastic and unambiguous about EMU as a political principle as well as a policy process.

I do not wish to wade into the well-advertised public grief of the Conservatives in this area, but it is quite astonishing that their motion in this agriculture debate does not address, in one way or the other, the issue of monetary union, its impact on United Kingdom agriculture and our position relative to the rest of the European Union. For obvious reasons, the silence from the Conservatives tonight is breathtaking.

Mr. Gill


Mr. Kennedy

Of course I will give way. I enjoyed my recent visit to the hon. Gentleman's constituency, when I lunched with my great friend Sir Julian Critchley. I could never accuse the hon. Gentleman of not being consistent when it comes to EMU.

Mr. Gill

I have never doubted the hon. Gentleman's political credentials. The problem with the pound is not that it is strong—the hon. Gentleman need only consider the parity that it enjoys with the United States dollar—but that other European countries have driven down their currencies in an attempt to hit the convergence criteria. That is the reality of the situation, and the hon. Gentleman knows it.

Mr. Kennedy

Although I am aware that we are getting into a debate, largely at my behest, about EMU, rather than the subject that we should be discussing, I shall respond to the hon. Gentleman's intervention. The inherent early weakness in the euro is largely due to the fact that sterling has not joined it. If sterling had been one of the building blocks or if the UK had been committed to the euro, with an appropriate entry date following a referendum, confidence in the euro would be stronger than it is in these initial stages. It is a question of whether the glass is half-empty or half-full, but I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman's general view on that issue.

Many other issues are detailed in the motion, but I shall deal with only two or three. I shall make a constructive suggestion, which I have raised with the Government before. Many hon. Members from all parties find that many of our farmers are coming to us with small-scale problems as well as the broader issues that they face. Action to solve those smaller problems is within the Government's remit and, I hope, the remit of the devolutionary settlement in Wales and Scotland.

Those problems include integrated control and administration system forms, the clawbacks that are imposed from time to time and the sometimes rather draconian interpretation of rules and regulations by regional officers. In my experience at a local level, nine times out of 10, a bit of common sense and good will would iron out the problem. That common sense is not being applied sufficiently well.

In almost every other sector of public life, whatever class of citizen is involved, there is some provision for an independent right of appeal. If one is not happy with the Child Support Agency or the Benefits Agency, one can go to an independent arbitrator or assessor. It is extraordinary that there is nothing of that sort for farmers. All they can do is write to their Member of Parliament. What do we do? We write to the Minister. The Minister's office passes the letter on to the district office that made the decision or offered the advice. In most cases, that office sends a letter back to the Minister saying, "Yes, we were right." The Minister writes back to the MP saying, "All is well. Sorry that I can't help."

Farmers should have the right to go through an independent arbitration mechanism in cases where decisions are made or advice given. A sum of £2,000 or £3,000 may not be a lot of money, but, given the collapse in incomes that farmers are experiencing, it is the difference between being viable or going bust. We strongly support such a mechanism, and I want the Government to take that on board.

Mr. Colin Breed (South-East Cornwall)

The Minister will know that I have written to him two or three times in recent months about similar cases. One involved a farmer who had his fields re-measured after four or five years. He found that there were modest changes—some fields were a little larger and some were a little smaller, but by less than a hectare in most cases. There was no suggestion—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman should be making an intervention, not telling a tale.

Mr. Breed

Farmers have tried to demonstrate that they are not form-fillers. They have made some odd mistakes, but it is inequitable that they can be penalised for modest over-claims that were made years before but can go back only one year when they have under-claimed.

Mr. Kennedy

I agree with my hon. Friend's point and, to paraphrase you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, with the tale that he has told.

Mr. Nick Brown

I was slightly stunned by the hon. Gentleman's description of the way in which we respond to letters from hon. Members. I do not merely ask the regional office to justify its action, and then sling the answer back to the hon. Member. I have taken a good look at some of the hard cases brought to my attention by hon. Members. The problem is not that a kind-hearted person would not exercise discretion, but that we have no discretion. The rules of European Union schemes are incredibly rigid, to avoid abuse not only in the United Kingdom but throughout the EU. If we had discretion, we would use it, but we do not.

Mr. Kennedy

I do not doubt the Minister's account, as he sees it. Having dealt, like many of my colleagues, with a succession of Agriculture Ministers of both political parties over the years, I can only reflect on the fact that rigidity appears to have taken on a new realism under this Administration in terms of their interpretation of some of the schemes. Without invoking the principle of subsidiarity, I wonder whether there is not a little more that can creatively be done to advise people in advance, before the mistake is logged and entered, so that the clawback or the reference backwards does not have to be invoked. [Interruption.] I hear the bell tolling; I shall take that as my cue to conclude.

I conclude by saying that I hope that we get a decision on Milk Marque from the Department of Trade and Industry, sooner rather than later. I hope that the decision will maintain Milk Marque's position in the processing sector. We do not want it to be dismantled or dismembered on a regional basis, as that would be catastrophic for various reasons. I speak for my colleagues when I say that, as I hope that I do on the many other issues on which we have touched this evening—but one never knows in the Liberal Democrats. Having said that, through gritted teeth we shall probably have to vote for the Conservative motion.

Several hon. Members


Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The Front-Bench exchanges have taken 92 minutes, and there are to be winding-up speeches. If hon. Members confined themselves to speeches of no longer than five minutes, it would be possible to have a reasonable spread of Back-Bench contributions.

9.1 pm

Mr. David Drew (Stroud)

I shall take careful note of your request, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

This is obviously well-travelled terrain. Given the time constraints, it is difficult to cover a motion of such length in much detail. However, it is useful to put on record the fact that Labour Members who live in rural areas genuinely understand the problems that farmers are experiencing. Many of us have farmers as friends, and we know that they are still facing dire problems in terms of their incomes. Small farmers in particular are struggling to make ends meet. I feel particularly for the tenant farmers in my area—those on the county farm estates which could be described as the poorer end of farming, hill farms notwithstanding.

There is so much that could and should be said, but we cannot proceed without mentioning bovine spongiform encephalopathy, a problem that is writ large. I know that the Opposition try to forget or to lay the blame elsewhere, as they tried to do today, but it is their responsibility, and we shall keep reminding them of that fact.

One point that is worth bearing in mind, and which was raised today at Prime Minister's questions by an Opposition Member, is the allegation that we are going slow in trying to get our beef exported to Europe. I remind the Opposition that the ban on tallow was removed while they were in office, yet we have still to see tallow back on the export markets. That says something about the European Union as well as about our efforts, but let us not fool ourselves into thinking that it is easy to regain export markets. The inspection regime is laborious—perhaps too laborious—and we must be realistic about how long it will take us to put it in place.

Mention has been made of bovine tuberculosis. We could spend the rest of the debate talking about its implications. Coming as it does on the back of BSE, it has been an enormous psychological downer for many farmers—admittedly, it affects another part of the agricultural sector, but we cannot describe its implications as anything other than very sad. In Gloucestershire alone, something like 130 herds have been affected, which in turn has an enormous impact on dairying. We have to be realistic in dealing with that problem.

I make no apology for highlighting one part of the Opposition's motion. Although my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry can say nothing and my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food was likewise circumspect, I can comment on Milk Marque. I feel that I can speak with some expertise and objectivity, having met representatives of Milk Marque regularly. Also, there is a Dairy Crest factory a mile away from where I live, so I know only too well about the conflicts and confrontation that have gone on.

We have been left with a dreadful mess. Anyone who pretends otherwise is being less than candid. We are faced with the 90 per cent. clearance of milk supply. There was only one way that the entire operation could go. The processors would not buy, thereby forcing down the price and leading to conflict between farmers. We have ended up with an unholy mess which I hope my right hon. Friend will sort out, but it will not be easy.

The Opposition motion calls for Milk Marque to be given the right to process. That makes me smile, as the Conservatives did not give it that right when they set up Milk Marque. Only recently has Milk Marque been able to take over Aeron Valley and subsequently plants in Somerset and Cornwall, which has allowed the processing capacity to open up. That has led to much more vicious conflict with the dairy processors. I hope that the problems can be resolved. They are not of our making; we inherited them.

We could talk about milk quotas and the legacy of the previous Administration. We must try our best to solve those problems. On other subjects, I am always surprised at the demand for caution with regard to genetically modified organisms. I heartily support that position, as hon. Members know. However, when it comes to beef on the bone, many people are prepared to set aside professional advice and medical opinion. That contrast should be emphasised more strongly.

We could talk in considerable detail about reform of the common agricultural policy. A start has been made, but no one pretends that that is the end of the story or that we have got everything that we wanted. As my right hon. Friend the Minister said, we are part of a smaller group of reformers, as opposed to those who pretended that they wanted reform but in reality wanted to keep the same structures in place. That is unacceptable and we must continue to oppose it. We must do so as a nation, not in party political terms.

On the wider rural debate that is mentioned in the motion, it is interesting to note that the Conservative party calls itself the party of the countryside, yet there are so many Labour Members who represent rural communities.

We are pleased with the Green Paper that the Government have issued, which will lead later in the year to the White Paper. We encourage consultation so that there is proper discourse on the future of rural Britain. I shall be holding such a discussion on Monday with my rural community council, involving not just the agricultural community but the entire rural community, to make sure that I can represent the community's point of view. All hon. Members would be well advised to do the same.

It is easy to try to score cheap political points, but we know the depth of the crisis and we know how many people are undergoing genuine travails. Agriculture must undergo change. Many of us in the House feel that there has been too much belief in the independence and isolationism of farmers, and not enough collaboration. We need to promote marketing schemes and consider ideas such as farmers markets, which are beginning to grow throughout the country. They provide a win-win situation, inasmuch as they can reduce transport costs and result in high-quality produce. That is what the consumer wants, and that is what the consumer is prepared to pay for.

9.10 pm
Mr. David Curry (Skipton and Ripon)

The crisis may be cyclical, but from the perspective of the uplands, it seems permanently installed. One might say, "Well, so what? Other jobs come along; agriculture always changes; there is always an exodus from agriculture", but I am afraid that it is different in the uplands. There are not an easy recourse, a fail-safe mechanism, a new industry or any sunrise jobs there. Investment is difficult; it does not flow readily. The region is remote and there is no availability of sites. There is poor transport, and there are poor levels of skills and—certainly in North Yorkshire—national park constraints. We understand the designation of areas of natural beauty, but they none the less make investment more difficult.

The average gross domestic product per capita in North Yorkshire is 79.5 per cent. of the European average. The area has the lowest wage rates in the region. In the uplands, the figure is 63 per cent.—so low that, if it were Liverpool, it would meet objective 1 criteria for European Union assistance. Agriculture provides 18 per cent. of employment in the North Yorkshire uplands and 35 per cent. in the two national parks. Subsidy accounts for the entire net farm income. Tourism adds perhaps 30 per cent., but both agriculture and tourism—and, I might add, care of the elderly, which is the unseen industry in much of the countryside—are low-wage, cyclical and seasonal. Off-farm income is absolutely crucial.

Half the farmers are more than 50 years old, half in the less-favoured areas have no family successor and two thirds have no formal qualifications. What is more, demography is against the dales; the population is changing. There are fewer people under 40 years old and, relatively speaking, more elderly people in the dales. So we have a sparse and ageing population. In addition, a quarter of them have no access to a private car. What I have said of the Yorkshire dales would be true of uplands across the United Kingdom.

That is the context of the agricultural crisis. We are faced in the uplands not just with a crisis industry but a crisis of society. One might say, "So what? Ways of life change, people have no right to be able to preserve a way of life indefinitely." But let us remember the fragility and vulnerability of the environment that we keep saying we want to save. On the 50th anniversary of the national parks, perhaps the Minister will remember, when he looks at his White Paper and his reviews, that those national parks were set up to try to maintain something very precious to the nation. That very preciousness is under threat at the moment.

There is action that the Government can take; I want to try to be constructive. First, objective 5b areas will be replaced by objective 2 status and its rural strand. The Government have the task of designating the populations which will fall within that. I hope that they will designate the whole of the population that is currently covered by the 5b areas of the Yorkshire uplands as objective 2 rural strand status, so that we may secure a stream of support for that important rural development.

Secondly, I hope that the Minister for the Regions, Regeneration and Planning will ensure that the regional development agencies recognise the genuine needs of the countryside in their programmes, and not the sometimes more evident needs of the inner city, which I would not want to deny. Thirdly, in reviewing long-term local government funding, will the Government take into account the needs of sparse and unskilled populations?

Although the situation in agriculture is desperate, there are things that the Government can do to help. There is no point in pretending that the Berlin agreement was anything other than a disaster. The Minister made an heroic effort in negotiating the deal, which he might not have thought was as good as he wanted, but which none the less just about held together. That has been undermined. It is ridiculous to say that it is a starting point for World Trade Organisation talks or enlargement. That is simply not sustainable.

Milk quotas have plunged into long-term uncertainty. I hope that the purdah attendant on local, regional and European elections will not mean that the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry has absolutely nothing to say about the milk issue for the foreseeable future. That would pile another uncertainty on top of an existing one. Farmers are getting 18p or 19p a litre and the net returns per cow are about £40 at the moment. That is simply not a sustainable livelihood.

Under the Berlin agreement, we have the new national envelopes. We need to know, as soon as possible, how they will be allocated and, in particular, how that will play within the new regional framework that is developing in the United Kingdom. The shift from headage payments to area payments is a complex business, but the Minister will want to make sure that there is no major disruption in the pattern of that support and that no one has a cliff edge off which they have to fall.

The importance of the beef export trade has been emphasised and we must start to think about how we move beyond the 30-month scheme with the measures that are in place and the agrimonetary compensation to which the Minister has referred. People in the pig industry are losing money. The road to bankruptcy used to be gambling, women or drink, but there is now a short-cut to it—raising pigs.

The Minister said something very important—[Interruption.] I should like him to pay attention to the point that I want to make. He said that the world trade round should take welfare standards into account and I want to be sure that that is Government policy, because it is an important statement. If welfare standards—as well as environmental standards and labour market conditions—were taken into account, the upcoming world trade round would be wholly different from previous ones. To what extent do the Government believe that the chemistry for this trade round is different from that which we have traditionally encountered?

I welcome the Minister's review of the various burdens on industry and I hope that he will conclude it rapidly. I will not, therefore, add my name to the telephone directory of my constituents who have specific complaints on that issue—they have been recited—but I ask him to consider one matter: the groundwater directive, which is causing serious difficulties in the uplands.

The directive concerns the disposal of sheep dip. The Environment Agency charges—the licence fee and the annual charge—are quite heavy. Such straws are small, but their cumulative effect is serious. I hope that the Minister will add that matter to his review and will perhaps consider veterinary inspections, which are now being applied to the export of live animals. I say to the Parliamentary Secretary that, whether people like that trade or not, it is economically important, given the state of the sheep industry, and it underpins what is left of the sector's buoyancy. Such measures may have a rationale in themselves, but their cumulative effect causes difficulties in these circumstances.

If the Government have to produce a financial fiche for their proposals and an environmental impact assessment, I should welcome a level playing field assessment, which would be of great assistance to us all. I hope that the Minister will consider what he can do practically. He said that he will review charges—I welcome that—and I hope that he will urge his colleagues involved in rural development and competition, and those in his own Department who are involved in the implementation of the Berlin agreement, to consult frankly and introduce new measures rapidly. This crisis is not one of the moment; it is beginning to unstitch the whole of rural society.

I know from my own experience that the problems of cities are evident, obvious and striking. Countryside problems are often hidden, unspoken and borne in a grim, personal way. However, they need attention just as badly. We have a resilient and independent society, but there is a real danger that it will soon be unable to cope any more.

9.18 pm
Mrs. Janet Dean (Burton)

I greatly welcome the debate, although I am saddened that, when Conservative Members choose to debate agriculture, as they have on several occasions, they concentrate on blaming the Labour Government for all its ills. I can only imagine that they do so either to atone for the mistakes that they made in government or because they cannot quite believe that many Labour Members represent rural areas. My constituency has two National Farmers Union branches and a 5b area, and is probably unique because it also contains an urban area with objective 2 status, so structural funds are very important to it.

As I have said in the House previously, I am a farmer's daughter and I lived on a farm until I was 19. It is rich for Conservative Members to presume that Labour Members know nothing about rural matters. I find that quite offensive, especially as the Conservative Government were clearly to blame for the BSE crisis, which is still having a great impact on agriculture and on the agricultural problems that we face. They also did not do much for the rural community when they introduced bus deregulation.

I pay tribute to Ministers for what they have achieved. During the Minister's recent visit to Staffordshire, farmers welcomed his honest way of talking to them and addressing the issues and problems that they raised with him. They also welcome the consultations that the Government have instigated. During the two years I have been meeting farmers in my constituency and making representations to Ministers, many of the issues that have been raised with me have been addressed. Farmers raised the matter of agrimonetary compensation with many of us and Ministers listened.

Ministers acknowledge that the problems of British agriculture are great. I particularly welcome some of the announcements that have been made tonight, because they have addressed issues that have recently been raised with me by farmers in my constituency. The difficulties with small abattoirs are important, especially if we want to develop the farmers markets to which my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Mr. Drew) referred.

I also welcome the Minister's statement that welfare standards will be considered during discussions at the World Trade Organisation. Farmers in my area want a level playing field with the rest of Europe. Welfare standards that apply in this country should be taken on board by the rest of Europe and by the World Trade Organisation. I welcome the fact that we are modifying the charges immediately for abattoirs, with deferment of the specified risk material costs, and that we are examining further the costs of abattoirs in this country compared with those in the rest of Europe. I particularly welcome the consideration of welfare standards with regard to pigmeat.

It is not always the Opposition who raise agricultural issues. My hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire, Moorlands (Charlotte Atkins) secured an Adjournment debate on badgers and TB in Staffordshire. That is of particular concern in the northern parishes—the same northern parishes as form the objective 5b area in my constituency and adjoin the Staffordshire-Derbyshire border. There is concern about the dramatic increase in the number of farms whose herds have been affected. We want that problem to be addressed, and I hope that that area can in the future be one of the trial areas.

There are many problems in the rural communities that Labour Members represent. I believe that Ministers are aware of those problems and are trying to address them. As I said, I find it offensive when Conservative Members imply that those problems all began in May 1997.

9.24 pm
Mr. William Thompson (West Tyrone)

I welcome the Minister's statement on the meat hygiene expenses and the specified risk material costs. Clearly, any such statement has to be welcomed. I also welcome the opportunity to debate the whole farming issue and the crisis in the United Kingdom. The situation is especially critical in Northern Ireland, because of the greater emphasis that we place on farming. Fanning is the largest industry in Northern Ireland, and we have many small farmers.

If I lived on the mainland I would agree entirely with the motion, but because parts of it do not apply to Northern Ireland my party will abstain in the vote. It would be too much for an Opposition party to support the Government amendment, given its talk of approving and of welcoming initiatives; but we appreciate what the Minister has done since taking office. He has visited Northern Ireland and met representatives of the industry there, and I think that when he talked to representatives of the pig industry he understood the difficulties of that industry for the first time.

As for beef, we are able to export it, but the loss of markets is causing us great difficulties, as is the high value of the pound. I understand that exports are now running at about 20 tonnes a week, as against 1,000 tonnes before the crisis. I know that there have been marketing initiatives, but I do not think that exports will reach their former level for some time. We look forward to the introduction of the date-based system, which will provide much more beef for export, and to the end of the ban on beef on the bone, which, I understand, provides cuts that are more attractive to the export industry. I note from a written answer that when Scotland has its Parliament it will be able to lift the ban, and I wonder what impact that will have on the rest of the United Kingdom.

Like the Minister, I am aware of the deep crisis in the pigmeat industry. Many pig farmers are heavily overdrawn; some are suffering from depression, and others are in despair. Although prices have increased somewhat, they are nowhere near high enough to meet running costs: indeed, I think that they are paying only for the meal fed to animals. We have a long way to go yet.

The amendment mentions Agenda 2000. We welcome the extra quota for Northern Ireland, although how it is to be distributed has yet to be decided. I hope that we will have some news about that soon. We also welcome the peace and reconciliation money that we have received. It represents quite a lot of income for Northern Ireland, and to an extent will compensate for the loss of objective 1 status.

One of our greatest problems in regard to farming overall is that we are in Europe, and must make and fight our case there. Because other nations have their own interests, progress is always difficult. Not very much progress has yet been made in reshaping the CAP, but there will never be proper scope for real farming, with proper profitability, until we completely reorganise the CAP movement.

We are under a time limit in the debate, and I shall not delay the House any longer, so that other hon. Members may have their say.

9.30 pm
Ms Sally Keeble (Northampton, North)

I very much welcome the opportunity of speaking in the debate.

The problems in agriculture are profound, and it does no service to the industry to try to simplify its problems and to turn them into party political issues, as the Opposition motion attempts to do. We need a careful strategy that will take the industry through an extremely difficult time.

The strategy should not only take notice of the industry's rightful economic interests, but deal with some of the most topical political concerns of our time—including animal welfare, about which the public feel strongly; food safety and public health, about which the public feel very strongly; environmental issues, about which is there is huge concern; and scientific issues. Current scientific developments—such as those in genetically modified products—could transform agriculture and the way in which it is practised, about which there is great public concern, and on which the Conservative party has been in the forefront in opposition.

All those issues are of profound interest not only to the farming community, but to the wider public. It does no service to anyone to try to draw artificial divides between the two communities—rural and urban, and agriculture and consumers.

The debate has already dealt at great length with the price issue, which is already well known and has been well rehearsed. I very much welcome the measures that my right hon. Friend the Minister has both announced today and taken in the past year.

I should like, extremely briefly, to address a few issues, one of which is the distortions caused by the common agricultural policy—which is perhaps the only issue on which I share profound concern with my predecessor as hon. Member for Northampton, North.

Farm incomes are not related to prices, but are down to subsidies. I have spoken to farmers in the Northamptonshire area who gain half their income from subsidies—which is a measure not only of the distortions caused by the common agricultural policy, and the need to deal with those distortions, but of the effects that exchange rates have had on farm incomes.

Mr. Hayes

Will the hon. Lady give way?

Ms Keeble

I shall not give way, as we are restrained by time. However, I am sure that I shall have many discussions with the hon. Gentleman on those issues.

The distortions also demonstrate the profound problems of reforming the common agricultural policy. Removing price supports from farmers will be extremely painful for them and will be difficult to effect. Although we all pay lip service to the results of removing price supports, there will be quite serious consequences for the farmers who lose that subsidy—which is the real issue, and which made it so difficult to make progress in Europe on Agenda 2000. Some of the other European Governments realised the impact that subsidy loss would have on farm incomes and felt the pressure from their farming community. It is a real tribute to the skill of our Minister that he was able to keep the debate going and to achieve some movement on an extremely difficult issue.

Although we all pay lip service also to the issue of a level playing field, achieving it is often much more difficult than we realise. The first issue on which we always say that we want a level playing field is animal welfare. I suspect that if some members of the public saw some of the farming methods that are used, they would ask for higher animal welfare standards. Raising standards in farms abroad will be very difficult to achieve, as will keeping pace with public concerns about animal welfare.

The second issue is food safety. I give notice to my right hon. Friend the Minister that if he slackens provisions too far, I shall be down his throat. I welcome the measure on abattoirs that he has announced tonight, but if we slacken on food safety standards and what happens in the abattoirs, the consequences for public health will be great. I am not talking about BSE, because everybody talks about that. I have seen one of my children laid up in hospital with E. coli 0157, probably as a result of eating infected beef that I did not cook properly. Fillet steak does not come with a warning saying "cook until the juices run clear". I dread to think what the Conservatives would say if it did. With such difficult issues, we must ensure that we pay proper attention to public health, and drive up standards in abattoirs and in meat hygiene. I am sure that my right hon. Friend will not compromise on that, particularly with my hon. Friend the Minister of State sitting next to him.

My right hon. Friend has rightly avoided the short-termism that the Conservatives promoted in dealing with the crisis facing agriculture. He has provided targeted aid, but he has adopted a long-term strategy. It may be more difficult to convince the public of such a strategy, but it is undoubtedly right. The Conservatives have supported him in bringing some honesty to the debate about the future of agriculture. I hope that he will persist with his long-term policies, because they are in the interests of agriculture and of the general public, who look for high standards in all areas of agriculture.

9.37 pm
Mr. Peter Atkinson (Hexham)

I shall not waste precious seconds giving the hon. Member for Northampton, North (Ms Keeble) a lesson in how to cook steak, but I assure her that if she cooks it until the juices run clear, she will have a rotten steak. The idea is to seal it on the outside and to have nice, bloody juice inside. But enough of that.

The Minister talked about candour and honesty. I accept that he is a candid and honest man, and has been so with the farmers. However, his amendment is not so candid or honest, because it says that the Agenda 2000 negotiations will provide the livestock sector with stability and a secure future. They manifestly will not.

I suspect that the agreement that the Minister negotiated on 11 March, after many late nights, was a good one. However, he did not reckon with the Prime Minister unpicking it and walking away with an agreement that, far from being a launching pad for something new, will give the farming community many more years of uncertainty, unless the millennium talks at the World Trade Organisation blow it out of the water, which I suspect will happen. Under the deal that the Prime Minister brought back, common agricultural policy spending will increase until 2003, and will start to fall after that only if world markets improve and the CAP can reduce exports of EU surpluses, which is unlikely.

Three points from the deal affect farmers in my constituency. The first is the muddle over the dairy quota. We have heard a lot about that. I understand that officials are considering extending the dairy quota until 2008, which is two years beyond the competence of the Commission. That will cause great uncertainty for dairy farmers.

On hill beef, the rules for extensification rates have been changed, regardless of the landscape of the farms. Presumably, hill farmers will have to get rid of some of their cows. Perversely, because the headage subsidy is going up, it is providing more of an incentive to the intensive rearing of livestock at the expense of the hill farmers. I should be grateful if the Minister would consider that.

We must also consider the future of the intervention regime which is one of the worst barriers to stability in the beef market. Once again, we do not know whether we shall have an intervention regime that provides a proper safety net. As long as 400,000 tonnes of beef are sitting in storage overhanging the market, investment will always be prejudiced by the fact that that beef could swamp the market at any particular price. It is ridiculous that the EU continues to buy beef in Ireland under the intervention regime and sell it as frozen beef in other EU countries, disturbing their internal beef markets.

I conclude with two points about costs. I welcome the Minister's announcement today about abattoir costs. Will he also consider not increasing the veterinary inspection of sheep for export? As my right hon. Friend the Member for Skipton and Ripon (Mr. Curry) said, more than 700,000 lambs have gone out on the Farmers Ferry service. That has made a substantial difference to the market here; doubling up the veterinary inspections and putting in Ministry vets, which will increase costs, will do further damage to the market. I know that the Minister disapproves—perhaps all Labour Members do—but those exports are an important source of income, particularly for hill farmers. We should be encouraging them instead of trying to strangle them with red tape.

9.42 pm
Mr. Ian Cawsey (Brigg and Goole)

As I have less time than anyone else, I shall be extremely brief. I shall concentrate on the pig industry as I represent Brigg and Goole. Hon. Members will be aware that in north Lincolnshire and the east riding of Yorkshire, pigs are extremely important.

In Britain, pigs are not only a high-quality product, but are produced to welfare standards that are the envy of the world. We should say more about those standards. I pay tribute to the previous Government for introducing the legislation that brought in those welfare standards. As I chair the all-party animal welfare group, I try to embrace all-party persuasions on these matters. I was concerned that hon. Members might say that we should back away from those standards because of difficulties in the sector. Instead, we need to drive standards up and I am sure that we can do that.

Since January, pig prices have increased by about 26 per cent., which is welcome, but they are still too low. Perhaps more importantly, we have opened up a 20 per cent. differential between our price and that charged by our European partners, so perhaps there is something in the idea that we can get a premium for the standards that we achieve here.

That point brings me to the Meat and Livestock Commission. I know what my right hon. Friend the Minister has said, but people within the industry are sceptical about the standard of service that the MLC has delivered recently. Farmers are required to pay a statutory levy, but although my right hon. Friend is convinced that the MLC is doing a better job—and I was involved in the launch of the charter mark and stood in a supermarket in Goole handing out British pork—and although some things are going the right way, much more needs to be done to win back farmers' confidence in the MLC. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister of State will take that on board.

Tonight, we have discussed European subsidies to the pig industry in other countries. The farmers in my constituency are thoroughly convinced that subsidies are paid in other European countries. I have taken the matter up with MAFF and been told that that is not the case. I am heartened by what my right hon. Friend said—that he is making inquiries—but something has to be done. If we find evidence, we shall pass it on to Ministers and expect them to take action. My right hon. Friend says that he is discussing the matter with other European countries. When he has finished those deliberations, I hope that he will make a statement because there is no confidence whatsoever in the claim that there are no such subsidies—although I hope that that it is the case. It is what we need to help the British sector.

Finally, Liberal Democrat Members mentioned economic and monetary union in the context of agriculture. We need to debate that; we cannot pretend that it is not happening across Europe. My constituency is involved in agriculture and steel. When I meet the National Farmers Union, British Steel and the Iron and Steel Trade Confederation, they all tell me to move forward on this issue. There has never been a more unlikely alliance than that of those three. We will not resolve that matter tonight in this short debate, but we do need to talk seriously about it.

9.45 pm
Mr. James Paice (South-East Cambridgeshire)

I start by thanking the Minister of State for allowing me the lion's share of the winding-up time. I appreciate his generosity.

Many hon. Members have spoken—and many more wanted to speak—in the debate. The Minister addressed us with his usual friendly and disarming style. He made it clear, as did some Labour Back Benchers, that he wanted to depoliticise the issue. That is fair enough; it has been the cry of Ministers over the years whenever they have known that they are on weak ground. The Government are accountable, and it is the job of the Opposition and the House to hold them to account.

I unreservedly welcome the Minister's decision to defer the specified risk material charges. The Opposition have called for that for many months—as he will concede—and I am pleased that he has reacted as he has. We welcome the study that he has announced, although we wonder why it has taken so long to set it up. We welcome also the talks that he is having with the banks on the state of farmers' accounts.

The hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Inverness, West (Mr. Kennedy) referred to rural projects, as did my right hon. Friend the Member for Skipton and Ripon (Mr. Curry). These are important, and we believe that the structure funds are a crucial part of the development of an agricultural policy. The Minister blustered at my hon. Friend the Member for South Suffolk (Mr. Yeo), saying that looking for numbers in the consultation paper was not the right way in which to consider it. However, if one talks to people in the country, the clear impression given by the absence of agriculture from the document is that, somehow, the Government believe that rural communities do not need farming to exist.

Mr. David Prior (North Norfolk)

Does my hon. Friend agree that the creation of a level playing field is essential for British farming, and that imports produced by methods that are illegal in this country should not be allowed in?

Mr. Paice

I agree, and my hon. Friend the Member for South Suffolk made exactly that point.

My hon. Friend the Member for South Suffolk promised that I would say a few words about the sheep industry. It is perfectly true, and very welcome, that new-crop lambs are making more than they did last year, but the collapse from the high point has been much greater than it was last year. We must accept that prospects for prices are not good, and that they are not helped by the extra ewes that were held back because there was no demand for culls last year.

Sheep producers now face more problems. The British Wool Marketing Board has warned this week that wool prices this year may not even cover the cost of shearing, due largely to the strength of sterling. We await the Government's plans for extensification and what is to replace the hill livestock compensatory allowance, and we look forward to their response.

My hon. Friend the Member for Hexham (Mr. Atkinson) referred to the Parliamentary Secretary's obsession with live exports. It started with an absurd statement, at a Meat and Livestock Commission lunch a couple of months ago, that the live export trade did not help prices.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. Elliot Morley)

It has not.

Mr. Paice

That is interesting. The hon. Gentleman should look at what his hon. Friend the Minister of State has said in answer to a parliamentary question, where he has clearly refuted such utter nonsense. The trade has made a difference.

The increase in the costs of inspection has been mentioned in a press release entitled "A Blueprint to a Better Future"; it should probably have been called "A Blueprint to No Future". The cost to Farmers Ferry—as has been described—will now be 50p per sheep more than before. The Ministry's own guidance states that that should be recovered from the producer, as if they could afford any more.

The Opposition support high welfare standards for the UK and across Europe, but the new rules smack much more of the Parliamentary Secretary's desire to destroy the trade than to improve welfare. It makes no difference to a sheep whether it is crossing the Minches to be fattened on the Scottish mainland or crossing the channel to be slaughtered. In addition, my right hon. Friend the Member for Skipton and Ripon mentioned the groundwater regulations, which require a £100 registration fee and further costs for disposal.

Finally on the subject of sheep, our armed forces are still being fed almost exclusively on imported lamb. That underlines an absurdity in the Minister's position. He rightly praises British food, its quality and the welfare standards behind it. He exhorts the supermarkets to promote British meat and claims to have done deals with them, but the Government will not put their money where their mouth is. It is not only lamb that is involved. Half the bacon and ham used by our forces is imported—that is close to £2.5 million-worth of trade. The beef situation is even more daft. Because of the export ban, our forces abroad cannot be fed British beef. Will the Minister give an undertaking that as soon as beef exports can resume, he will ensure that British forces overseas get it?

The Minister dismissed the criticism of his response to the Agriculture Committee's report on pigs. The fact is that across the agriculture industry, his response was seen as complacent irresponsibility. His response to my hon. Friend the Member for Ludlow (Mr. Gill) on the issue of specified offal bore little resemblance to the response he gave to the Committee and its recommendations. I can tell the Minister, because he challenged us, that of course we support the farm assurance scheme and anything that will emphasise the quality of British food.

The Minister was also questioned about the growth promoters that have been banned for use in pigs. I find it astonishing that the Government are still prepared to subject British consumers to food that contains residues that could be damaging to health, which is in odd contrast to the beef on the bone issue.

Several hon. Members touched on the issue of TB, which is affecting both dairy and beef producers. The breakdowns have been rising at some 40 per cent. a year for the past two years and the geographical area is spreading. The Minister of State has said over and again that the problem is very important and that resources are not an issue, but the fact remains that nearly 18 months after the Krebs report, only two of the 10 trial areas are up and running. It will be another year before they are all complete. That means that it will be another six years before we get any results. What about the rest of the country during that time? The NFU has estimated that breakdowns cost farmers £27,000 on average, far more than the compensation for the value of the animal, which the Government rightly pay. It has made proposals for dealing with the rest of the country during the study period and we look forward to the Minister's response very soon.

The Conservatives do not claim that all farming's problems are the fault of the Government. They are not responsible for what happened in Russia, for example.

Mr. Martlew

We were not responsible for BSE.

Mr. Paice

The hon. Gentleman goes on about BSE and that has been the theme throughout this debate. Beef prices today are some 8p a kilo lower than they were three weeks after the announcement in March 1996. They collapsed after that announcement, stayed at that level for a year and have now gone further down. It was not the previous Government who put a cap on the amount of 30-month scheme money for cull cows: it was this Government. They have made a bad situation worse. Since Labour came to office, cattle prices are down, lamb is down, pigs are down and milk is down. If that were not enough, the Government have heaped cost upon cost on the industry, including meat hygiene charges—not the ones that the Minister has, thankfully, deferred today, but ones that they previously implemented—cattle passports, groundwater charges, the costs of deboning and the fuel price increases. We have had two emergency Christmas packages and one of them has not yet been finally paid out.

The Minister has spent nine months with his arm around farmers' shoulders saying that he wants to listen and to learn, but the good will that he has engendered will not last for ever. Tonight, we have tried to provide some of the answers. It is time that the Minister reacted to what he has learned. There is an old English saying that fine words butter no bread. Under Labour, farmers cannot afford the bread. It is time to deliver.

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

The debate has been useful and interesting. The United Kingdom livestock population—cattle, sheep and pigs—totals more than the human population. It varies over the season, but amounts to around 65 million.

Let me spell out the subsidies that the taxpayer pays to the livestock industry: for 1998, beef special premium was £248 million, suckler cow premium was £250 million, sheep annual premium was estimated at £371 million and hill livestock compensatory allowances were £109 million, and they are estimated to be £171 million for 1999. The industry is highly dependent on subsidies. The idea that the Government are not providing taxpayers' money is abject nonsense.

Several hon. Members raised the issue of bovine tuberculosis, and we await with interest the report of the Select Committee on Agriculture. The Government will respond as quickly as we can, and we shall take all the report's recommendations seriously. The Committee has done the House a service in educating many hon. Members about the seriousness of an extremely complex issue. Any attempt to discuss that issue simplistically conflicts with reality.

To the hon. Member for South-East Cambridgeshire (Mr. Paice), who has just wound himself up, I must say that when the beef ban is lifted and British beef can be exported, we will make it a priority to supply British beef to our armed forces. As the Prime Minister said today, European Commission inspectors visited UK abattoirs, farms and the centre in Gloucester that will run the date-based export scheme during a five-day stay last week. They have promised to respond as quickly as possible, and that usually takes about 20 working days. We are doing our best to pre-empt any questions that the inspectors may raise by giving them all the information that they request as soon as we can.

We cannot say when beef will be exported. It will happen as soon as possible. At least one plant—possibly two—is ready to go when it has been approved under the admittedly complex rules of the date-based export scheme. Other abattoirs are queueing up to see what happens.

The ban on beef on the bone has been raised as if it were a simple matter. People have died, and are dying. I regret that more people will die as a result of new variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease. We are guided by the advice of the chief medical officer. Woe betide any Minister who ignores such advice. We have promised to review the ban in the summer, six months after the advice given in February. We shall again act on the CMO's advice.

Abattoirs were a continuing theme of the debate, and my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food made an important announcement. I accept that some abattoirs have closed under the Labour Government: there are about 350 in England, compared with 384 in December 1996. In 1979, however, there were 975 abattoirs. What we heard tonight resembled the old myth about grammar schools: in fact, more closed under Mrs. T than ever did under a Labour Minister. We can never match the number of abattoirs closed by the Tories, because there are not enough left.

We have no policy to close abattoirs. Our policy is to raise standards in the industry and to make sure that the taxpayer does not pay a disproportionate share of the cost of necessary controls. That is what we seek to do in the announcements made by my right hon. Friend today and in our inquiry into the industry over the coming weeks.

Question put, That the original words stand part of the Question:—

The House divided: Ayes 161, Noes 319.

Division No. 150] [9.59 pm
Ainsworth, Peter (E Surrey) Dorrell, Rt Hon Stephen
Allan, Richard Duncan, Alan
Amess, David Emery, Rt Hon Sir Peter
Ancram, Rt Hon Michael Evans, Nigel
Arbuthnot, Rt Hon James Fabricant, Michael
Atkinson, Peter (Hexham) Fallon, Michael
Baker, Norman Fearn, Ronnie
Baldry, Tony Flight, Howard
Ballard, Jackie Forth, Rt Hon Eric
Beith, Rt Hon A J Foster, Don (Bath)
Bercow, John Fowler, Rt Hon Sir Norman
Beresford, Sir Paul Fox, Dr Liam
Blunt, Crispin Fraser, Christopher
Bottomley, Peter (Worthing W) Gale, Roger
Bottomley, Rt Hon Mrs Virginia Garnier, Edward
Brady, Graham George, Andrew (St Ives)
Brand, Dr Peter Gibb, Nick
Brazier, Julian Gill, Christopher
Breed, Colin Gillan, Mrs Cheryl
Brooke, Rt Hon Peter Goodlad, Rt Hon Sir Alastair
Browning, Mrs Angela Gorman, Mrs Teresa
Bruce, Ian (S Dorset) Green, Damian
Burnett, John Greenway, John
Burns, Simon Grieve, Dominic
Butterfill, John Hamilton, Rt Hon Sir Archie
Campbell, Rt Hon Menzies (NE Fife) Hammond, Philip
Hancock, Mike
Cash, William Hawkins, Nick
Chapman, Sir Sydney (Chipping Barnet) Hayes, John
Heald, Oliver
Chope, Christopher Heathcoat-Amory, Rt Hon David
Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey Heseltine, Rt Hon Michael
Collins, Tim Hogg, Rt Hon Douglas
Colvin, Michael Horam, John
Cormack, Sir Patrick Howard, Rt Hon Michael
Cotter, Brian Howarth, Gerald (Aldershot)
Cran, James Hughes, Simon (Southwark N)
Curry, Rt Hon David Hunter, Andrew
Davey, Edward (Kingston) Jack, Rt Hon Michael
Davies, Quentin (Grantham) Jackson, Robert (Wantage)
Jenkin, Bernard Sanders, Adrian
Keetch, Paul Sayeed, Jonathan
Kennedy, Charles (Ross Skye) Shephard, Rt Hon Mrs Gillian
Key, Robert Shepherd, Richard
King, Rt Hon Tom (Bridgwater) Simpson, Keith (Mid-Norfolk)
Kirkbride, Miss Julie Smith, Sir Robert (W Ab'd'ns)
Kirkwood, Archy Spicer, Sir Michael
Laing, Mrs Eleanor Spring, Richard
Lait, Mrs Jacqui Steen, Anthony
Lansley, Andrew Streeter, Gary
Leigh, Edward Stunell, Andrew
Letwin, Oliver Swayne, Desmond
Lewis, Dr Julian (New Forest E) Syms, Robert
Lidington, David Tapsell, Sir Peter
Livsey, Richard Taylor, Ian (Esher & Walton)
Lloyd, Rt Hon Sir Peter (Fareham) Taylor, John M (Solihull)
Llwyd, Elfyn Taylor, Matthew (Truro)
Loughton, Tim Taylor, Sir Teddy
Luff, Peter Tonge, Dr Jenny
Lyell, Rt Hon Sir Nicholas Townend, John
MacGregor, Rt Hon John Tredinnick, David
MacKay, Rt Hon Andrew Trend, Michael
McLoughlin, Patrick Tyler, Paul
Maples, John Tyrie, Andrew
Mates, Michael Viggers, Peter
Maude, Rt Hon Francis Walter, Robert
Mawhinney, Rt Hon Sir Brian Wardle, Charles
Nicholls, Patrick Waterson, Nigel
Norman, Archie Webb, Steve
Oaten, Mark Wells, Bowen
Welsh, Andrew
Ottaway, Richard Whitney, Sir Raymond
Page, Richard Whittingdale, John
Paice, James Widdecombe, Rt Hon Miss Ann
Paterson, Owen Wilkinson, John
Pickles, Eric Willetts, David
Prior, David Wilshire, David
Redwood, Rt Hon John Winterton, Mrs Ann (Congleton)
Rendel, David Winterton, Nicholas (Macclesfield)
Robathan, Andrew Yeo, Tim
Robertson, Laurence (Tewk'b'ry)
Rowe, Andrew (Faversham) Tellers for the Ayes:
Ruffley, David Mrs. Caroline Spelman and
Russell, Bob (Colchester) Mr. Stephen Day.
Adams, Mrs Irene (Paisley N) Brown, Rt Hon Nick (Newcastle E)
Allen, Graham Brown, Russell (Dumfries)
Anderson, Donald (Swansea E) Buck, Ms Karen
Anderson, Janet (Rossendale) Burden, Richard
Armstrong, Rt Hon Ms Hilary Butler, Mrs Christine
Ashton, Joe Byers, Rt Hon Stephen
Atherton, Ms Candy Caborn, Rt Hon Richard
Atkins, Charlotte Campbell, Alan (Tynemouth)
Austin, John Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge)
Banks, Tony Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V)
Barnes, Harry Cann, Jamie
Barron, Kevin Casale, Roger
Battle, John Caton, Martin
Bayley, Hugh Cawsey, Ian
Beard, Nigel Chapman, Ben (Wirral S)
Begg, Miss Anne Chaytor, David
Bell, Martin (Tatton) Clapham, Michael
Bell, Stuart (Middlesbrough) Clark, Rt Hon Dr David (S Shields)
Benn, Rt Hon Tony Clark, Dr Lynda (Edinburgh Pentlands)
Bermingham, Gerald
Blackman, Liz Clarke, Charles (Norwich S)
Blears, Ms Hazel Clarke, Eric (Midlothian)
Blizzard, Bob Clarke, Rt Hon Tom (Coatbridge)
Blunkett, Rt Hon David Clarke, Tony (Northampton S)
Boateng, Paul Clelland, David
Borrow, David Clwyd, Ann
Bradley, Keith (Withington) Coaker, Vernon
Bradley, Peter (The Wrekin) Coffey, Ms Ann
Bradshaw, Ben Coleman, Iain
Brinton, Mrs Helen Colman, Tony
Cook, Frank (Stockton N) Hood, Jimmy
Corbett, Robin Hoon, Geoffrey
Corbyn, Jeremy Hope, Phil
Corston, Ms Jean Hopkins, Kelvin
Cousins, Jim Howarth, Alan (Newport E)
Cranston, Ross Howarth, George (Knowsley N)
Crausby, David Hoyle, Lindsay
Cryer, Mrs Ann (Keighley) Hughes, Ms Beverley (Stretford)
Cryer, John (Hornchurch) Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N)
Cummings, John Humble, Mrs Joan
Cunningham, Rt Hon Dr Jack (Copeland) Hurst, Alan
Hutton, John
Cunningham, Jim (Cov'try S) Iddon, Dr Brian
Curtis-Thomas, Mrs Claire Illsley, Eric
Dalyell, Tam Jackson, Ms Glenda (Hampstead)
Darling, Rt Hon Alistair Jackson, Helen (Hillsborough)
Darvill, Keith Jamieson, David
Davey, Valerie (Bristol W) Jenkins, Brian
Davidson Ian Johnson, Alan (Hull W & Hessle)
Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli) Johnson, Miss Melanie (Welwyn Hatfield)
Davies, Geraint (Croydon C)
Dawson, Hilton Jones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside)
Dean, Mrs Janet Jones, Helen (Warrington N)
Denham, John Jones, Ms Jenny (Wolverh'ton SW)
Dismore, Andrew
Dobbin, Jim Jones, Jon Owen (Cardiff C)
Dobson, Rt Hon Frank Jones, Dr Lynne (Selly Oak)
Doran, Frank Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S)
Dowd, Jim Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald
Drew, David Keeble, Ms Sally
Drown, Ms Julia Keen, Alan (Feltham & Heston)
Eagle, Angela (Wallasey) Keen, Ann (Brentford & Isleworth)
Eagle, Maria (L'pool Garston) Kelly, Ms Ruth
Edwards, Huw Kemp, Fraser
Efford, Clive Kennedy, Jane (Wavertree)
Ellman, Mrs Louise Khabra, Piara S
Etherington, Bill Kidney, David
Field, Rt Hon Frank Kilfoyle, Peter
Fitzpatrick, Jim King, Andy (Rugby & Kenilworth)
Fitzsimons, Lorna King, Ms Oona (Bethnal Green)
Flint, Caroline Kingham, Ms Tess
Flynn, Paul Kumar, Dr Ashok
Follett, Barbara Lawrence, Ms Jackie
Foster, Rt Hon Derek Laxton, Bob
Foster, Michael Jabez (Hastings) Lepper, David
Fyfe, Maria Leslie, Christopher
Galloway, George Levitt, Tom
Gapes, Mike Lewis, Terry (Worsley)
Gardiner, Barry Liddell, Rt Hon Mrs Helen
George, Bruce (Walsall S) Linton, Martin
Gibson, Dr Ian Livingstone, Ken
Gilroy, Mrs Linda Lloyd, Tony (Manchester C)
Godman, Dr Norman A Love, Andrew
Godsiff, Roger McAvoy, Thomas
Goggins, Paul McCabe, Steve
Golding, Mrs Llin McCafferty, Ms Chris
Gordon, Mrs Eileen McCartney, Rt Hon Ian (Makerfield)
Griffiths, Jane (Reading E)
Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S) McDonagh, Siobhain
Griffiths, Win (Bridgend) McDonnell, John
Grocott, Bruce McIsaac, Shona
Grogan, John Mackinlay, Andrew
Gunnell, John McNamara, Kevin
Hall, Mike (Weaver Vale) McNulty, Tony
Hamilton, Fabian (Leeds NE) MacShane, Denis
Harman, Rt Hon Ms Harriet McWalter, Tony
Heal, Mrs Sylvia McWilliam, John
Henderson, Doug (Newcastle N) Mahon, Mrs Alice
Henderson, Ivan (Harwich) Mallaber, Judy
Hepburn, Stephen Mandelson, Rt Hon Peter
Heppell, John Marsden, Gordon (Blackpool S)
Hesford, Stephen Marshall, David (Shettleston)
Hewitt, Ms Patricia Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)
Hill, Keith Marshall-Andrews, Robert
Hinchliffe, David Martlew, Eric
Hodge, Ms Margaret Maxton, John
Meacher, Rt Hon Michael Smith, Rt Hon Andrew (Oxford E)
Meale, Alan Smith, Angela (Basildon)
Merron, Gillian Smith, Rt Hon Chris (Islington S)
Michie, Bill (Shef'ld Heeley) Smith, Miss Geraldine (Morecambe & Lunesdale)
Milburn, Rt Hon Alan
Miller, Andrew Smith, Jacqui (Redditch)
Mitchell, Austin Smith, John (Glamorgan)
Moffatt, Laura Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent)
Moonie, Dr Lewis Snape, Peter
Moran, Ms Margaret Soley, Clive
Morgan, Ms Julie (Cardiff N) Southworth, Ms Helen
Morley, Elliot Spellar, John
Morris, Ms Estelle (B'ham Yardley) Squire, Ms Rachel
Mountford, Kali Starkey, Dr Phyllis
Mudie, George Steinberg, Gerry
Mullin, Chris Stevenson, George
Murphy, Denis (Wansbeck) Stewart, David (Inverness E)
Naysmith, Dr Doug Stewart, Ian (Eccles)
O'Brien, Bill (Normanton) Stinchcombe, Paul
O'Hara, Eddie Stott, Roger
O'Neill, Martin Strang, Rt Hon Dr Gavin
Organ, Mrs Diana Straw, Rt Hon Jack
Osborne, Ms Sandra Stringer, Graham
Palmer, Dr Nick Stuart, Ms Gisela
Pearson, Ian Sutcliffe, Gerry
Pendry, Tom Taylor, Rt Hon Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)
Perham, Ms Linda
Pike, Peter L Taylor, Ms Dari (Stockton S)
Plaskitt, James Taylor, David (NW Leics)
Pond, Chris Temple-Morris, Peter
Pope, Greg Thomas, Gareth R (Harrow W)
Timms, Stephen
Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lewisham E) Tipping, Paddy
Prentice, Gordon (Pendle) Truswell, Paul
Prosser, Gwyn Turner, Dennis (Wolverh'ton SE)
Purchase, Ken Turner, Dr Desmond (Kemptown)
Quin, Rt Hon Ms Joyce Turner, Dr George (NW Norfolk)
Quinn, Lawrie Twigg, Derek (Halton)
Radice, Giles Twigg, Stephen (Enfield)
Rammell, Bill Vis, Dr Rudi
Rapson, Syd Walley, Ms Joan
Reid, Rt Hon Dr John (Hamilton N) Ward, Ms Claire
Robinson, Geoffrey (Cov'try NW) Wareing, Robert N
Rooker, Jeff White, Brian
Ross, Ernie (Dundee W) Wicks, Malcolm
Rowlands, Ted Williams, Rt Hon Alan (Swansea W)
Roy, Frank
Ruane, Chris Winnick, David
Ruddock, Joan Winterton, Ms Rosie (Doncaster C)
Russell, Ms Christine (Chester) Wise, Audrey
Ryan, Ms Joan Wood, Mike
Savidge, Malcolm Worthington, Tony
Sawford, Phil Wray, James
Sedgemore, Brian Wright, Anthony D (Gt Yarmouth)
Shaw, Jonathan Wright, Dr Tony (Cannock)
Sheerman, Barry Wyatt, Derek
Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert
Shipley, Ms Debra Tellers for the Noes:
Simpson, Alan (Nottingham S) Mr. Clive Betts and
Skinner, Dennis Mr. Robert Ainsworth

Question accordingly negatived.

Question, That the proposed words be there added, put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 31 (Questions on amendments):

The House divided: Ayes 316, Noes 160.

Division No. 151] [10.15 pm
Adams, Mrs Irene (Paisley N) Armstrong, Rt Hon Ms Hilary
Allen, Graham Ashton, Joe
Anderson, Donald (Swansea E) Atherton, Ms Candy
Anderson, Janet (Rossendale) Atkins, Charlotte
Austin, John Dismore, Andrew
Banks, Tony Dobbin, Jim
Barnes, Harry Dobson, Rt Hon Frank
Barron, Kevin Doran, Frank
Battle, John Dowd, Jim
Bayley, Hugh Drew, David
Beard, Nigel Drown, Ms Julia
Begg, Miss Anne Eagle, Angela (Wallasey)
Bell, Stuart (Middlesbrough) Eagle, Maria (L'pool Garston)
Benn, Rt Hon Tony Edwards, Huw
Benton, Joe Efford, Clive
Bermingham, Gerald Ellman, Mrs Louise
Blackman, Liz Etherington, Bill
Blears, Ms Hazel Field, Rt Hon Frank
Blizzard, Bob Fitzpatrick, Jim
Blunkett, Rt Hon David Fitzsimons, Lorna
Boateng, Paul Flint, Caroline
Borrow, David Flynn, Paul
Bradley, Keith (Withington) Follett, Barbara
Bradley, Peter (The Wrekin) Foster, Rt Hon Derek
Bradshaw, Ben Foster, Michael Jabez (Hastings)
Brinton, Mrs Helen Fyfe, Maria
Brown, Rt Hon Nick (Newcastle E) Galloway, George
Brown, Russell (Dumfries) Gapes, Mike
Buck, Ms Karen Gardiner, Barry
Burden, Richard George, Bruce (Walsall S)
Butler, Mrs Christine Gibson, Dr Ian
Byers, Rt Hon Stephen Gilroy, Mrs Linda
Caborn, Rt Hon Richard Godman, Dr Norman A
Campbell, Alan (Tynemouth) Godsiff, Roger
Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge) Goggins, Paul
Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V) Golding, Mrs Llin
Cann, Jamie Gordon, Mrs Eileen
Casale, Roger Griffiths, Jane (Reading E)
Caton, Martin Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)
Cawsey, Ian Grocott, Bruce
Chapman, Ben (Wirral S) Grogan, John
Chaytor, David Gunnell, John
Clapham, Michael Hall, Mike (Weaver Vale)
Clark, Rt Hon Dr David (S Shields) Hamilton, Fabian (Leeds NE)
Clark, Dr Lynda (Edinburgh Pentlands) Harman, Rt Hon Ms Harriet
Heal, Mrs Sylvia
Clarke, Charles (Norwich S) Henderson, Doug (Newcastle N)
Clarke, Eric (Midlothian) Henderson, Ivan (Harwich)
Clarke, Rt Hon Tom (Coatbridge) Hepburn, Stephen
Clarke, Tony (Northampton S) Heppell, John
Clelland, David Hesford, Stephen
Clwyd, Ann Hewitt, Ms Patricia
Coaker, Vernon Hill, Keith
Coffey, Ms Ann Hinchliffe, David
Coleman, Iain Hodge, Ms Margaret
Colman, Tony Hood, Jimmy
Cook, Frank (Stockton N) Hoon, Geoffrey
Corbett, Robin Hope, Phil
Corbyn, Jeremy Hopkins, Kelvin
Corston, Ms Jean Howarth, Alan (Newport E)
Cousins, Jim Howarth, George (Knowsley N)
Cranston, Ross Hoyle, Lindsay
Crausby, David Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N)
Cryer, Mrs Ann (Keighley) Humble, Mrs Joan
Cryer, John (Hornchurch) Hurst, Alan
Cummings, John Hutton, John
Cunningham, Rt Hon Dr Jack (Copeland) Iddon, Dr Brian
Illsley, Eric
Cunningham, Jim (Cov'try S) Jackson, Ms Glenda (Hampstead)
Curtis-Thomas, Mrs Claire Jackson, Helen (Hillsborough)
Dalyell, Tam Jamieson, David
Darling, Rt Hon Alistair Jenkins, Brian
Darvill, Keith Johnson, Alan (Hull W & Hessle)
Davey, Valerie (Bristol W) Johnson, Miss Melanie (Welwyn Hatfield)
Davidson, Ian
Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli) Jones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside)
Davies, Geraint (Croydon C) Jones, Helen (Warrington N)
Dawson, Hilton Jones, Ms Jenny (Wolverh'ton SW)
Dean, Mrs Janet
Denham, John Jones, Jon Owen (Cardiff C)
Jones, Dr Lynne (Selly Oak) Pike, Peter L
Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S) Plaskitt, James
Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald Pond, Chris
Keeble, Ms Sally Pope, Greg
Keen, Alan (Feltham & Heston) Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lewisham E)
Keen, Ann (Brentford & Isleworth) Prentice, Gordon (Pendle)
Kelly, Ms Ruth Prosser, Gwyn
Kemp, Fraser Purchase, Ken
Kennedy, Jane (Wavertree) Quin, Rt Hon Ms Joyce
Khabra, Piara S Quinn, Lawrie
Kidney, David Radice, Giles
Kilfoyle, Peter Rammell, Bill
King, Andy (Rugby & Kenilworth) Rapson, Syd
King, Ms Oona (Bethnal Green) Reid, Rt Hon Dr John (Hamilton N)
Kingham, Ms Tess Robinson, Geoffrey (Cov'try NW)
Kumar, Dr Ashok Rooker, Jeff
Lawrence, Ms Jackie Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)
Laxton, Bob Rowlands, Ted
Lepper, David Roy, Frank
Leslie, Christopher Ruane, Chris
Levitt, Tom Ruddock, Joan
Lewis, Terry (Worsley) Russell, Ms Christine (Chester)
Liddell, Rt Hon Mrs Helen Ryan, Ms Joan
Linton, Martin Savidge, Malcolm
Livingstone, Ken Sawford, Phil
Lloyd, Tony (Manchester C) Sedgemore, Brian
Love, Andrew Shaw, Jonathan
McAvoy, Thomas Sheerman, Barry
McCabe, Steve Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert
McCafferty, Ms Chris Shipley, Ms Debra
McCartney, Rt Hon Ian (Makerfield) Simpson, Alan (Nottingham S)
Skinner, Dennis
McDonagh, Siobhain Smith, Rt Hon Andrew (Oxford E)
McDonnell, John Smith, Angela (Basildon)
McIsaac, Shona Smith, Rt Hon Chris (Islington S)
Mackinlay, Andrew Smith, Miss Geraldine (Morecambe & Lunesdale)
McNamara, Kevin
McNulty, Tony Smith, Jacqui (Redditch)
MacShane, Denis Smith, John (Glamorgan)
McWalter, Tony Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent)
McWilliam, John Snape, Peter
Mahon, Mrs Alice Soley, Clive
Mallaber, Judy Southworth, Ms Helen
Mandelson, Rt Hon Peter Spellar, John
Marsden, Gordon (Blackpool S) Squire, Ms Rachel
Marshall, David (Shettleston) Starkey, Dr Phyllis
Marshall, Jim (Leicester S) Steinberg, Gerry
Marshall-Andrews, Robert Stevenson, George
Martlew, Eric Stewart, David (Inverness E)
Meacher, Rt Hon Michael Stewart, Ian (Eccles)
Meale, Alan Stinchcombe, Paul
Merron, Gillian Stott, Roger
Michie, Bill (Shef'ld Heeley) Strang, Rt Hon Dr Gavin
Milburn, Rt Hon Alan Straw, Rt Hon Jack
Miller, Andrew Stringer, Graham
Mitchell, Austin Stuart, Ms Gisela
Moffatt, Laura Sutcliffe, Gerry
Moonie, Dr Lewis Taylor, Rt Hon Mrs Ann (Morecambe & Lunesdale)
Moran, Ms Margaret
Morgan, Ms Julie (Cardiff N) Taylor, Ms Dari (Stockton S)
Morley, Elliot Taylor, David (NW Leics)
Morris, Ms Estelle (B'ham Yardley) Temple-Morris, Peter
Mountford, Kali Thomas, Gareth R (Harrow W)
Mudie, George Timms, Stephen
Mullin, Chris Tipping, Paddy
Murphy, Denis (Wansbeck) Truswell, Paul
Naysmith, Dr Doug Turner, Dennis (Wolverh'ton SE)
O'Brien, Bill (Normanton) Turner, Dr Desmond (Kemptown)
O'Hara, Eddie Turner, Dr George (NW Norfolk)
O'Neill, Martin Twigg, Derek (Halton)
Organ, Mrs Diana Twigg, Stephen (Enfield)
Osborne, Ms Sandra Vis, Dr Rudi
Palmer, Dr Nick Walley, Ms Joan
Pearson, Ian Ward, Ms Claire
Pendry, Tom Wareing, Robert N
Perham, Ms Linda White, Brian
Wicks, Malcolm Wray, James
Williams, Rt Hon Alan (Swansea W) Wright, Anthony D (Gt Yarmouth)
Wright, Dr Tony (Cannock)
Winnick, David Wyatt, Derek
Winterton, Ms Rosie (Doncaster C)
Wise, Audrey Tellers for the Ayes:
Wood, Mike Mr. Robert Ainsworth and
Worthington, Tony Mr. Clive Betts
Ainsworth, Peter (E Surrey) Green, Damian
Allan, Richard Greenway, John
Amess, David Grieve, Dominic
Ancram, Rt Hon Michael Hamilton, Rt Hon Sir Archie
Arbuthnot, Rt Hon James Hammond, Philip
Atkinson, Peter (Hexham) Hancock, Mike
Baker, Norman Hawkins, Nick
Baldry, Tony Hayes, John
Ballard, Jackie Heald, Oliver
Beith, Rt Hon A J Heathcoat-Amory, Rt Hon David
Bercow, John Heseltine, Rt Hon Michael
Beresford, Sir Paul Hogg, Rt Hon Douglas
Blunt, Crispin Horam, John
Bottomley, Peter (Worthing W) Howard, Rt Hon Michael
Bottomley, Rt Hon Mrs Virginia Howarth, Gerald (Aldershot)
Brady, Graham Hughes, Simon (Southwark N)
Brand, Dr Peter Hunter, Andrew
Brazier, Julian Jack, Rt Hon Michael
Breed, Colin Jackson, Robert (Wantage)
Brooke, Rt Hon Peter Jenkin, Bernard
Browning, Mrs Angela Keetch, Paul
Bruce, Ian (S Dorset) Kennedy, Charles (Ross Skye)
Burnett, John Key, Robert
Burns, Simon King, Rt Hon Tom (Bridgwater)
Butterfill, John Kirkbride, Miss Julie
Campbell, Rt Hon Menzies (NE Fife) Kirkwood, Archy
Laing, Mrs Eleanor
Cash, William Lait, Mrs Jacqui
Chapman, Sir Sydney (Chipping Barnet) Lansley, Andrew
Leigh, Edward
Chope, Christopher Letwin, Oliver
Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey Lewis, Dr Julian (New Forest E)
Colvin, Michael Lidington, David
Cormack, Sir Patrick Livsey, Richard
Cotter, Brian Lloyd, Rt Hon Sir Peter (Fareham)
Cran, James Llwyd, Elfyn
Davey, Edward (Kingston) Loughton, Tim
Davies, Quentin (Grantham) Luff, Peter
Day, Stephen Lyell, Rt Hon Sir Nicholas
Dorrell, Rt Hon Stephen MacGregor, Rt Hon John
Duncan, Alan MacKay, Rt Hon Andrew
Emery, Rt Hon Sir Peter McLoughlin, Patrick
Evans, Nigel Maples, John
Fabricant, Michael Mates, Michael
Fallon, Michael Maude, Rt Hon Francis
Fearn, Ronnie Mawhinney, Rt Hon Sir Brian
Flight, Howard Nicholls, Patrick
Forth, Rt Hon Eric Norman, Archie
Foster, Don (Bath) Oaten, Mark
Fowler, Rt Hon Sir Norman Ottaway, Richard
Fox, Dr Liam Page, Richard
Fraser, Christopher Paice, James
Gale, Roger Paterson, Owen
Garnier, Edward Pickles, Eric
George, Andrew (St Ives) Prior, David
Gibb, Nick Redwood, Rt Hon John
Gill, Christopher Rendel, David
Gillan, Mrs Cheryl Robathan, Andrew
Goodlad, Rt Hon Sir Alastair Robertson, Laurence (Tewk'b'ry)
Gorman, Mrs Teresa Rowe, Andrew (Faversham)
Ruffley, David Trend, Michael
Russell, Bob (Colchester) Tyler, Paul
Sanders, Adrian Tyrie, Andrew
Sayeed, Jonathan Viggers, Peter
Shephard, Rt Hon Mrs Gillian Walter, Robert
Shepherd, Richard Wardle, Charles
Simpson, Keith (Mid-Norfolk) Waterson, Nigel
Smith, Sir Robert (W Ab'd'ns) Webb, Steve
Spicer, Sir Michael Wells, Bowen
Spring, Richard Welsh, Andrew
Steen, Anthony Whitney, Sir Raymond
Streeter, Gary Whittingdale, John
Stunell, Andrew Widdecombe, Rt Hon Miss Ann
Swayne, Desmond Wilkinson, John
Syms, Robert Willetts, David
Tapsell, Sir Peter Wilshire, David
Taylor, Ian (Esher & Walton) Winterton, Mrs Ann (Congleton)
Taylor, John M (Solihull) Winterton, Nicholas (Macclesfield)
Taylor, Matthew (Truro) Yeo, Tim
Taylor, Sir Teddy
Tonge, Dr Jenny Tellers for the Noes:
Townend, John Mrs. Caroline Spelman and
Tredinnick, David Mr. Tim Collins.

Question accordingly agreed to.

MR. DEPUTY SPEAKER forthwith declared the main Question, as amended, to be agreed to.


That this House recognises the difficulties faced by many in the livestock sector; welcomes the Government's strong commitment to the livestock sector in the United Kingdom; endorses the efforts the Government has made to secure the lifting of the ban on the worldwide export of British beef; approves of the steps which the Government has taken since May 1997 to support the beef and sheep industry via EU agri-monetary compensation; welcomes the initiatives the Government has taken to promote the pig industry; recognises the extra support to the livestock sector, particularly hill and upland producers via substantially increased hill livestock compensatory allowances, announced in November 1998; and welcomes the recently-agreed reshaping of the Common Agricultural Policy as part of the Agenda 2000 negotiations, which seeks to provide the livestock sector with stability and a secure future.