HC Deb 27 July 2000 vol 354 cc1226-7
6. Mr. Kerry Pollard (St. Albans)

What measures his Department is taking to promote small business enterprise in the farming industry. [131266]

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

We are promoting small business enterprise in a number of ways through both the action plan for farming and the England rural development plan, including a free farm business advice service open to all farmers, an increase in the budget for the rural development agencies redundant building grant, new expenditure on training, a new rural enterprise scheme and a new processing and marketing grant scheme.

Mr. Pollard

I welcome the Government's decision to provide a free business advice service to any farmer who wants it. What steps has my right hon. Friend taken to ensure that those who have to provide that free service are properly trained and fully aware of all the opportunities available under the England rural development plan?

Ms Quin

We are looking closely at the qualifications and eligibility criteria for those who will administer the scheme, so that they will be in a position to give informed, worthy and worthwhile advice to the farmers who apply for it.

Mr. Patrick McLoughlin (West Derbyshire)

What guidance has the Minister's Department issued to national parks on farm diversification?

Ms Quin

National parks, as well as other organisations, have been involved in the discussions on planning issues that are taking place across government. The hon. Gentleman will know that the action plan for farming, which was announced on 30 March, included examination of the importance of ensuring that there were as few obstacles to farm diversification as possible. In all parts of the country, there needs to be involvement with that programme. We are determined to take it forward.

Mr. Tim Yeo (South Suffolk)

Far from promoting enterprise, the Government's policies in the two years since the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food took up his job have led to an unprecedented collapse in farm incomes, a massive loss of jobs in the countryside, the closure of dozens of slaughterhouses and the destruction of many family farms after generations of hard work. Does the Minister of State agree that only a genuine attack on red tape, the introduction of honesty in labelling and firmer action against substandard imports—the three keynote policies of the Conservative party's fair deal for farmers—will effectively promote enterprise in agriculture?

Ms Quin

I have looked at the Conservative proposals for agriculture. They are in three parts: first, action that the Government are already taking; secondly, action that would be declared illegal and would therefore incur heavy fines in the European Court; and thirdly, vague spending commitments that seem to be at odds with what the Conservative financial spokespeople are offering the electorate.

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