HC Deb 25 February 2004 vol 418 cc273-4
6. Andrew Selous (South-West Bedfordshire) (Con)

What action the Government are, taking to help the farming industry in Wales. [155773]

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

The UK Government, in partnership with the Welsh Assembly, which plays a crucial role, negotiate farming issues at EU level that will continue to encourage prosperity in the Welsh farming industry. The recent Welsh Assembly strategy to implement common agricultural policy reform is a positive result of the negotiations

Andrew Selous

Farmers in Wales receive the lowest milk price in the European Union. with farm-gate prices having fallen from 26p per litre in 1996 to 18p per litre today. On top of that, the CAP reform that the Government negotiated will have an adverse effect on milk production. What is the Minister doing to ensure that Welsh dairy farmers receive a price for their milk that is greater than the cost of production?

Mr. Touhig

The decision to implement CAP reform in Wales has been widely welcomed throughout Wales by the farming community, the farming unions—the Farmers Union of Wales and the National Farmers Union—and the Country Landowners Association. Farming has had a difficult time over the past couple of years. The hon. Member for Leominster (Mr. Wiggin) recently asked me questions about farm incomes, and I can tell him that they have gone up by £2,000 to more than £16,000 in the current year. That is not high enough, but the figure is moving in the right direction. When I had discussions at an agricultural college in Ruthin in north-east Wales last week, I was encouraged by the response of farmers and those who work in the industry about their future. There is growing encouragement. [HON. MEMBERS: "What about milk?"] I shall come to milk—

Mr. Speaker

Order. May I stop the Minister? His answer has been too long.

Gareth Thomas (Clwyd, West) (Lab)

My hon. Friend has already referred to the meeting that he had in my constituency last week at Llysfasi agricultural college. Incidentally, I hope that he enjoyed the rather splendid lunch that was offered. Does he recall the view of the experts present that the prospects for agriculture in Wales had improved greatly and that CAP reform negotiations were particularly good as far as Welsh farmers were concerned?

Mr. Touhig

Yes, I very much enjoyed the visit to the college and I had a splendid lunch. I thank my hon. Friend and the college staff for providing it; it was excellent. I certainly had a good visit to the first-class milking parlour at the college, and I was greatly encouraged by what I learned from those who operate the parlour. There is a good future for farmers working together in partnership with the Labour Government. As we all know, farmers do better under a Labour Government.