HC Deb 24 May 2000 vol 350 cc958-9
6. Mr. James Clappison (Hertsmere)

What recent discussions he has had with the Agriculture Secretary of the National Assembly about agriculture in Wales. [122182]

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

My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State and I meet our colleagues in the Assembly on a regular basis to discuss a wide range of issues, including the agriculture sector. My hon. Friend also holds regular quarterly liaison meetings with the Agriculture Secretary of the Assembly.

Mr. Clappison

Does the Secretary of State agree that Welsh agricultural produce enjoys a well-deserved reputation for being of excellent quality and wholesomeness? Many people in Wales want the country's produce to remain GM-free. Can the Secretary of State throw any light on how a GM maize test site that was supposed to be in England has turned out to be over the border in Wales? Can anything be done about that?

Mr. Murphy

The hon. Gentleman is right to identify the problem. The farm at which the trial was being carried out has a postal address in England, but the field to which the hon. Gentleman refers lies 100 yd on the other side of the Welsh border. Legally, neither the Government nor the Assembly can prevent the trials being held. When it was realised that there was a GM site in Wales, officials at the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions spoke to the company involved to try to get it to grow the crop in one of the fields on the English side of the border, or to remove that farm from the project altogether. However, as a result of various pressures, the number of fields available has shrunk. That meant that pressure to use this particular field grew, and the farmer involved pressed ahead with the tests.

Mr. Huw Edwards (Monmouth)

Welsh farmers have shared in the £0.5 billion agrimonetary compensation that has been secured by the Government. Is not that £0.5 billion more such compensation than the previous Conservative Government ever drew down?

Mr. Murphy

I am delighted to agree with my hon. Friend, and to tell the House that the package is worth £28 million to Wales. That works out to about £100 per farm holding in Wales—the equivalent of every citizen contributing just over £9 to that package. That is good news for Wales.

Mr. Lembit Öpik (Montgomeryshire)

What can the Secretary of State do to help stop young farmers leaving the Welsh farming industry because of the lack of profitability in farming?

Mr. Murphy

The package to which I just referred is a good example of how we can help farmers in Wales. In addition, the Assembly is taking a special look at our rural economy to ensure that farmers, and small businesses too, are helped.