HC Deb 30 October 2002 vol 391 cc859-60
6. Ann Winterton (Congleton)

What recent discussions he has had with the First Secretary about the future viability of small family farms in Wales. [76063]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Don Touhig)

The former Secretary of State for Wales, my right hon. Friend the Member for Torfaen (Mr. Murphy), had regular meetings with the First Minister and agricultural matters were always high on the agenda. This will remain the case with my right hon. Friend the new Secretary of State.

Ann Winterton

According to the Welsh Assembly's own figures, last year the average livestock and dairy farm had an income of just over £100—way below the national minimum wage. No prosperity there for Welsh farmers. What proposals will the Secretary of State bring to discussions with the First Minister in order to address the extremely serious plight of Welsh agriculture, bearing in mind that the small family farm is the lynchpin of both tourism and the food industry in Wales?

Mr. Touhig

I do not need any lectures from the hon. Lady about farming in Wales—there are a number of farmers in my own constituency. The key point [Interruption.] Perhaps Opposition Members are dividing up for the next leadership challenge. The key point for the viability of family farms is to keep them alive and growing, and to find ways in which we can help them. The National Assembly has put in place Farming Connect, which is working with farmers to find ways to improve the viability of their businesses, to implement new practices and to discover new initiatives. A range of funds has been put in place to help achieve that.

Also, I was pleased to help with the launching, at the Royal Welsh Agricultural Show, of an event to help regain our export markets in mainland Europe for Welsh lamb and beef. Some £600,000 has been put in place to help promote Welsh meat products in mainland Europe. Those are the kind of serious initiatives that the Government and the Assembly are involved in to restore the prosperity of Welsh farming. We commend them, and it is a pity that the hon. Lady could not.

Gareth Thomas (Clwyd, West)

As someone who actually represents a Welsh constituency, and a rural one at that, may I tell my hon. Friend that agriculture in Wales has a prosperous future, thanks to the effective partnership between a Labour-led Assembly and the Labour Government?

Mr. Touhig

That prosperous future is being delivered by a Labour-led Government and a Labour-led Administration in Cardiff. That has made the difference to the people of Wales. We should be confident and assured in our new Wales. Our economy is strong and our future is bright. It is a pity that the Opposition, who do not have any seats in Wales, have not stopped knocking Wales.