HC Deb 13 December 2001 vol 376 cc992-3
7. Mr. Parmjit Dhanda (Gloucester)

What action she is taking to promote farmers markets in town centres. [20560]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Mr. Elliot Morley)

We are actively promoting farmers shops and markets as a good means of getting a higher proportion of the end price back to the primary producers. Farmers markets in town centres help to reconnect town and country. Our target is 400 farmers markets by 2003.

Mr. Dhanda

I thank my hon. Friend for his response. Is he aware of a local initiative in Gloucester, involving the local authority, that has brought about a regular local farmers market right in the heart of the city centre on the third Friday of every month? That has not only benefited Gloucestershire's rural economy but provided consumers with a choice of good-quality fresh fruit. Does my hon. Friend agree that that is a good model for other towns and city centres to follow?

Mr. Morley

I agree with my hon. Friend, and I congratulate his local council on its promotional work. We have encouraged local councils to promote farmers markets. Indeed, there is a possibility of their receiving support from the Countryside Agency and, following the recent White Paper, through the rural enterprise scheme. I use farmers markets myself on occasion; they are a source of excellent-quality British food from regional producers, and I certainly commend them to the House and encourage their support.

Mr. Andrew MacKay (Bracknell)

Will the Minister join me in congratulating Bracknell Forest borough council on its initiative of organising a monthly market in the town centre? Does he accept that many people in my constituency, which is not a rural area, like to use farmers markets and to buy local produce, because they know where it has come from?

Mr. Morley

The right hon. Gentleman is right, and I join him in congratulating his local council. Such markets are a way for local producers to obtain the benefits of added value by selling direct. Many producers, including some in my area, have seized upon such initiatives and developed them constructively. That is good not only for farmers and producers but for consumers, because such markets provide high-quality products and increase local choice.

Phil Sawford (Kettering)

Although we all welcome the growth of farmers markets, there is considerable concern in the farming community about the current restrictions on livestock markets and their long-term future. Given the length of time that has elapsed since the last case of foot and mouth was confirmed, will my hon. Friend review those restrictions?

Mr. Morley

We will certainly review the current restrictions in the light of circumstances and the veterinary advice that we receive. I emphasise that risks remain even though it is very welcome news that we have had no further outbreak of foot and mouth since 30 September. Livestock markets still present a risk, so we must not drop our guard or be complacent. However, as the situation changes, we shall of course review it.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield)

Macclesfield borough council has a beautiful paved area in front of the town hall and parish church in the heart of the town. The Minister has been very supportive of farmers markets, so will he be more specific about the assistance that might be available in the short term to establish them on a regular basis for the benefit not only of hard-pressed farmers but of consumers who want real British-produced fresh food?

Mr. Morley

As a Department, we have helped to promote farmers markets and develop a national network. We have advised and supported them. It is possible to obtain advice and support from the Countryside Agency and the rural enterprise scheme. Last but not least, I am sure that the hon. Gentleman's local council might be interested in providing support to an excellent initiative.