HC Deb 13 April 2000 vol 348 cc492-3
6. Mr. A. J. Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed)

What recent assessment he has made of the state of livestock farming in Northumberland. [1177331

The Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Ms Joyce Quin)

We recognise the problems of the livestock industry in Northumberland and the rest of the country. We have acted to alleviate them. On 30 March, my right hon. Friend the Minister announced a substantial package of £200 million, the bulk of which was targeted at the livestock sector.

Mr. Beith

The summit measures were indeed welcomed, but does the Minister of State recognise that deeply indebted livestock farmers in Northumberland are still struggling, particularly with the problems of the high pound? Is that featuring in discussions among Ministers? Does the hon. Lady recognise that as soon as the livestock prices at the marts rise, Republic of Ireland stock comes in to undercut the United Kingdom trade? Does she also recognise that the dairy farming sector—what little we have left of it—is still in a very desperate position?

Ms Quin

The right hon. Gentleman is correct about the difficulties of the dairy sector. That is why it was an important focus of the farming summit that took place on 30 March. Besides the agrimonetary payments for dairy farmers that were announced, the hygiene charges and the over-30-months scheme limit were removed. Those points had been put strongly by dairy farmers in recent months, and the right hon. Gentleman must recognise that we responded to them.

The farming summit must be considered against the background of previous help that we have given the industry. Together with the food chain initiative, also announced at the farming summit, there are many measures that should at least reassure dairy farmers that we are very focused on their situation.

Mr. Peter Atkinson (Hexham)

One of the things that the Minister can do to help Northumbrian livestock farmers is to revisit the extraordinarily complicated rules that surround the Agenda 2000 extensification scheme. This involves more than six farm visits a year and, what is worse, perpetuates the evil that farmers are raising beef for subsidy, not for meat quality.

Ms Quin

The hon. Gentleman is right to point to complications in the scheme. However, in our contacts with the European Commission we have done a lot to try to bring about greater simplification. The Government have set up a review of regulatory burdens, and accepted the vast majority of the recommendations of the meat industry red tape working group. Some of them require further negotiations with the European Commission, which we are pursuing, but we are bringing in those which we are able to introduce domestically.

Forward to