HC Deb 22 March 2000 vol 346 cc963-5
3. Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield)

What discussions he has had with the First Secretary on the future of the livestock industry in Wales. [114264]

The Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Paul Murphy)

I meet the First Secretary weekly and we discuss a wide range of issues, including the future of the livestock industry in Wales.

Mr. Winterton

Will the Secretary of State for Wales accept that the livestock industry is in severe crisis? Is he aware that the deadline for the British Government to claim agrimonetary compensation is the end of April? Does he agree that such compensation is one very good way of assisting the livestock industry? Is he also aware that all other European Union states claim their full allocation under agrimonetary compensation? Will he claim the full amount for livestock farmers in Wales and give an assurance that he has no intention of reducing support for hill farmers?

Mr. Murphy

A considerable amount of support has been given to hill farmers. The hill livestock compensatory allowance for Wales was increased by £15 million, from £42 million for this year and for last year. I understand the hon. Gentleman's point on agrimonetary compensation. However, he will be aware that £88 million has been paid to farmers in this country because of the high cost of the pound, and that, over the past number of years, much more than that has been paid. He will also be aware that the Prime Minister intends to hold an agricultural summit next week, at which there will be representatives from the farming community in Wales and all those matters will be discussed.

Mr. Richard Livsey (Brecon and Radnorshire)

May I repeat the question, in a slightly different way, that has just been asked? It is reckoned that farmers in Wales are owed £45 million in agrimonetary compensation for 1999–2000. Although the right hon. Gentleman has mentioned years prior to that year, we are talking about the current financial year, which is just ending. Farmers in Wales are absolutely on their knees. Will the Secretary of State go to that summit with the Prime Minister and advocate very strongly that farmers should receive the money that they have failed to get in the marketplace in the past 12 months because of the high pound? I am very surprised that the Chancellor did not deal with that subject yesterday.

Mr. Murphy

I understand the problems that are caused by the high cost of the pound and by exchange rates. The hon. Gentleman is aware that we have to examine many other issues in trying to ensure that, in the years and decades ahead, Wales continues to have a viable farming industry. That objective will form much of the agenda in Downing Street next week, when I am sure that the point that he has made will be made forcibly by the farming communities themselves.

Mr. Simon Thomas (Ceredigion)

Will the Secretary of State confirm that he or a representative from his Department will be present at the fanning summit in Downing Street on 30 March? In the absence of the agrimonetary compensation scheme that has been requested from the Opposition Benches this afternoon, what other proposals will be taken to that summit?

Mr. Murphy

I can confirm that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary will be present at that summit and he is aware, of course, that the dairy sector in Wales has serious problems. The National Farmers Union met in my office some weeks ago on that matter, and I am sure that the hon. Gentleman has also met the union. We will emphasise the importance of trying to do something to help the dairy sector in Wales, by examining promotional campaigns for milk and in other ways as well.