Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
[Relevant documents: the Ninth Report of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, Session 2001–02, on The Future of UK Agriculture in a Changing World (House of Commons Paper No. 550I), and the First Report from the Environmental Audit Committee, Session 2002–03, on Pesticides: The Voluntary Initiative (HC 100).
Minutes of Evidence taken before the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee: Foot and Mouth Disease 2001: Lessons to be Learned Inquiry, 23 July 2002 (Session 2001–02, HC 1144); The Royal Society Inquiry into Infectious Diseases in Livestock, 16 October 2002 (Session 2001–02, HC 1227); and Government Response to the Foot and Mouth Inquiry Reports and other matters arising, 21 November 2002 (Session 2002–03, HC 111).]
That this House welcomes the Government's commitment to sustainable development, balancing environmental, economic and social aims both domestically and globally; commends its drive to promote thriving rural economies and communities, including a vibrant food and farming sector, that protects and ensures the sustainable use of the environment, as well as contributing to productivity; applauds the launch on 12th December of the Government's Sustainable Farming and Food Strategy; further welcomes the Government's commitment in its response to the Foot and Mouth Disease Inquiry reports to a massive programme of work and reform; recognises the substantial strides the Government is making in tackling climate change, and the leading role it played at the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg in securing global commitments to tackle poverty through sustainable development, such as halving the number of people without access to adequate sanitation; further welcomes its focus on the sustainable and efficient use of the urban and rural environment and the need to work with business to promote the country's competitive advantage by embracing and leading internationally on green technologies, landscapes and the countryside for all to enjoy and benefit from, its commitment to animal welfare and its focus on evidence-based policy-making and science; and urges the Government to make continuing progress in advancing global environmental priorities, including radical reform of the Common Agricultural Policy, not least as part of the UK's commitment to reducing poverty and hunger in developing countries, to the World Trade Organisation, and to further cuts in carbon emissions worldwide.The overriding purpose of my Department is the pursuit of sustainable development—the balancing of economic, social and environmental concerns—but there is supposed to be an old Chinese curse that runs, "May you live in interesting times", and the Department was certainly set up in interesting times, with the worst outbreak of foot and mouth disease that the world has ever seen still not overcome.
For the past 18 months, its officials and Ministers have been striving to create a new Department, with sustainable development at its core, which is outward-looking, open in its dealings, ready to recognise and to change where we get things wrong, and capable of forward thinking, while still dealing effectively with the day-to-day.
The Department already has much of which it can be proud. We head the interdepartmental team that did so much to broker success in the climate change negotiations, particularly those in Bonn and Marrakesh. We maintained and reinforced the Government's reputation as a leading player in sustainable development at the world summit in Johannesburg and began to mainstream it in Government policy here at home—with, for example, the Treasury's agreement to make sustainable development a key component of the Government's approach to the recent spending review and, with the agreement of the Office of Government Commerce, to look at sustainable procurement across the Government.
Just as when pressing for rural-proofing, much of our work as a Department is of necessity bound up with the policy work and, indeed, the budgets of other Departments, so it is essential that we work effectively and co-operatively with them; and we are doing so, as, for instance, the Department of Trade and Industry's recent announcement about rural post offices showed. However, in DEFRA itself, we are working to give effect to the principles of sustainability.
So today we have published the Government's response to the Curry commission, setting out our approach to a sustainable farming and food industry and, of course, drawing to a close the final stages of the response to the disease outbreak, through the three strands of the inquiry process, to each of which the Government have now responded, with the publication of our report today and, of course, setting out some of the forward work before us.
We are the custodians of the rural White Paper, which was first published in November 2000 and set demanding standards for the improvement of services for rural England and for the rural economy. The White Paper contains some 260 commitments to action, half of which have been delivered, with the rest ongoing or on course for delivery in the future. However, I want to ensure that we are doing enough to deliver on the White Paper's main purpose: to try to transform the rural economy and rural services, so we are setting in train measures to deal with our programme of such work.
Since 1998, there has been a formal presumption against the closure of rural schools. On average, five a year are now approved for closure, compared with an average of 30 a year between 1983 and 1997. Some £450 million over three years has been committed to support the rural post office network. Some £239 million has been allocated over the three years to 2004 for rural transport services, including £70 million a year on rural buses, with some 1,800 new or improved bus routes in England. Much more remains to be done, such as providing more affordable homes in rural areas and supplying an enhanced health care service, to name but two.
Although rural communities and the rural economy are not synonymous with the welfare of farming and food, over three quarters of the United Kingdom's landmass today is given over to agricultural use, and there are clear interactions between farming and the rural economy, farming and the landscape, as well as farming and the environment. The wider environment itself encompasses a huge range of domestic and international issues, stretching from water and air
Andrew George (St. Ives): I was pleased to have the opportunity to pick up the three documents in response to the Curry commission report from the Vote Office at a quarter past 11, after the press, the National Farmers Union and other bodies had already been able to comment on them. Which of all the detailed responses in those documents would the Secretary of State say would deal with the problem that more farmers have left the industry in past year than in any year since the second world war? The structural problems of farming are resulting in large numbers of farmers leaving the industry.
Margaret Beckett: The hon. Gentleman invites me to tell him in one word or a phrase what the entire content of the documents is. May I take this opportunity to say that I am sorry if he did not get the documents until 11.30? I do not know whether he checked the board, but the documents should have been sent to him and the Conservative Front-Bench spokesman earlier this morning.
Margaret Beckett: I apologise for that. Something must have gone wrong with the delivery, but we endeavoured to ensure, having issued a written statement at 9.30, that certain key players received copies, and I apologise to the hon. Gentleman if the system fell down in some way.
The hon. Gentleman is right to say that, of course, there have been dramatic changes in the past 50 years, but everyone recognises that change in the industry now has to take place. We set out a range of measures in the documents and the back-up analysis to which he refers, and I shall say a little more about that in a moment
Mr. James Paice (South-East Cambridgeshire): Before the previous intervention, the Secretary of State referred to the Government's overall view of the agricultural landscape of this country, and the role that the agriculture industry plays within it. Having quickly perused the documents to which reference has just been made, I recognise the Government's commitment in terms of a viable agricultural industry. Does she envisage—this does not seem to appear in the document—a reduction in the amount of the land area of this country used for farming? Does she envisage land coming out of agriculture and being used for other purposes to any significant extent?
Margaret Beckett: I am tempted to say that it depends. I emphasise that I do not have any kind of master plan, blueprint or theoretical view of the number or size of farms that should exist. I know that that was not what the hon. Gentleman was implying, but it is important to put that on the record. As we develop the countryside stewardship scheme, and as we pilot the new agri-environment scheme—the broad and shallow scheme to which the Curry commission referred—it is entirely possible that marginal land in particular, which is now used, for example, for growing crops, might be
used for flood plain alleviation, wetland creation or a range of other things. The answer to him, therefore, is that such a change is possible, but that does not mean that it will not contribute to the welfare of the individual farm business or the wider rural community.
The latest statistics suggest some improvement in some farm incomes. We fully accept, however, that there are many and continuing problems in farming and food, and that the Government should do what they can, in their own proper sphere, to assist in overcoming those problems. I say that deliberately because, particularly in this place—understandably—there is a tendency for people to talk as if the whole responsibility for the welfare of food and farming rests on the shoulders of the Government. That is not, of course, the case: the future of the industry, like the future of the individual businesses within it, is primarily in its own hands, but there is a role and a place for Government to help and support, and we shall do our best to deliver our side of the bargain.
Mr. David Curry (Skipton and Ripon): Just before the right hon. Lady embarked on the question of incomes, she rightly mentioned some of the broad industries and services in the countryside. To that end, we have just seen the terms of reference of Lord Haskins' inquiry, which is virtually an inquiry into the Government's policies towards rural Britain. Will she assure us that Lord Haskins will have access to other Departments in analysing those services? If joined-up government is to mean anything, he should have such access—he is looking at the regional development agencies, and he has been told to look at local authorities, the national parks, the Countryside Agency and English Nature, all of which have implications for other Departments. How wide ranging is his inquiry, and how will she define its limits, its time scale and its resources?
Margaret Beckett: Its limits are likely to be defined by the amount of time that Lord Haskins has—it is not likely to be an unlimited and untimetabled study. In that regard, the phrase used by Lord Haskins was something like "studying policies and delivery". We want him to focus particularly on the delivery of what the Department seeks to do in rural areas. We want him to take a broad look at what we are trying to achieve, to look critically at what the Department is doing, and to judge whether we are pursuing the best way of achieving our goals with the resources available, and whether we are getting the best value for money and the most effective delivery. That will inevitably curtail what he will do. I do envisage that he will talk to the other players with whom we are involved, which will, to some extent, include other Departments. We are anxious that he should give us the benefit of what will no doubt be his robust views on a reasonably good time scale, as we have challenging targets on which we want to deliver.
Mr. Paul Tyler (North Cornwall): Before the Secretary of State leaves the issue of farm incomes, does she recall that one of her Conservative predecessors told me that approximately only a third of common agricultural policy funding ends up on the farm? What
calculation has she made of what percentage of common agricultural policy funding now ends up directly in farmers' hands?
Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome): Before the right hon. Lady was diverted, she was outlining the different sectors of farming. My constituents are most concerned with dairying, and the principal problem of dairy farmers is simple: the price of milk at the farm gate. Do the Government intend to make their influence felt in that area? As things stand at the moment, we will lose dairy farmers unless we can get the retailers to increase the price that they are prepared to pay for milk.
Margaret Beckett: I do not think that that is an issue in which the Government should seek to intervene directly by trying to set prices. Certainly, however, we are conscious of the difficulties that many dairy farmers are and have been facing. I hope and believe that the range of issues that cause difficulties for dairy farmers will be among those addressed through the work of the food chain centre and, to some extent, through English Partnerships.
Mr. James Plaskitt (Warwick and Leamington): I am sure that my right hon. Friend is right to say that farming itself must bring something to the task of restructuring the industry. Is not the problem, however, the imbalance between production and demand? Many small producers produce goods that are purchased by a few large and powerful purchasers—the supermarkets. How can she help to rebalance the industry so that the producers have more of a sway in that calculation?
Margaret Beckett: I am coming to that point, in a sense, a little later. It can be addressed in two areas. First, it can be addressed through work in the supply chain. Clearly, the experience of the imbalance of power between the producer and the purchaser is not unique to farming and food, and, in other industries, supply chain work has consistently been found to be useful in addressing those issues. Secondly, the whole issue of collaboration has been found to help with implementation in relation to supply chain difficulties, once they are identified.
We fully accept the recommendations of the policy commission chaired by Sir Don Curry that the food and farming industries need to be responsive to changing consumer demands for higher-quality, safer, more traceable and yet competitively priced food, produced to higher environmental and animal welfare standards. In our strategy for sustainable farming and food launched today, the Government set out some of the
steps that we can take to assist and support the industries, particularly in promoting the spread of best practice. We are making available some £500 million to support the strategy, which will be used to examine ways to encourage, for example, a more effective food chain and whole-farm audits, as well as to develop measures such as the livestock database and work on contingency planning.
The strategy builds on the steps that we took immediately after the launch of the policy commission report, such as setting up the food chain centre. We want to see increased co-operation within the food chain and improved performance across the board. We want to help farmers get the right training and advice to develop their businesses, and see them rewarded for providing sustained benefits to the environment. We want to help them move on from production subsidies that distort market signals and distance them from their customers. As ever, investment and reform are key. To try to ensure that we secure those improvements, and get value for the money that we are prepared to invest, we have asked Sir Don Curry to chair an implementation group to focus on and help keep us up to the mark in our delivery strategy.
Most of that work is done in the context of international agreement and international policy making. The House will be well aware that, in relation to both the common fisheries policy and the common agricultural policy, there is strong debate about the need for change and the nature of the change that will be required. The Fisheries Commissioner has made his proposals—they include a proposal for a complete moratorium on cod fishing—but he is exploring with us and other member states whether a less draconian mix of measures can be taken as a way of substantially reducing fishing activity so as to try to ensure that stocks can recover. We recognise that even this would be painful, but we must act sensibly if we are to have fish stocks to argue about in the future.
Mr. Michael Weir (Angus): I am glad that the Secretary of State has introduced the subject of fisheries into the debate. Yesterday, in a debate on European matters, Foreign Office Ministers said that they would speak to the Prime Minister about the prospect of raising this subject at the Copenhagen summit. Will she update us and tell us whether the Prime Minister will raise the matter at Copenhagen at the weekend?
Margaret Beckett: My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister is very apprised of the need to address this issue. I have little doubt that he will take the opportunity on this occasion, as he has done so often in the past, to make strongly the case in Britain's interests.
The common agricultural policy review represents a significant opportunity for reform. With the Doha agreement, it adds impetus to the case that we, along with other Governments, have been making for radical reform of the CAP. We look forward to important negotiations in both these policy areas during the next few weeks and in the course of next year. However, that is, of course, only a small part of the international agenda and the negotiations in which my Department is engaged.
The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development's environmental performance review of the UK, which was published a few days ago, shows evidence of progress in the effects of our domestic policy, in particular decoupling economic growth from at least some aspects of environmental degradation. We are also able to show progress in air quality, water quality, greenhouse gas emissions and levels of recycling.
Although it is right and good that we are achieving these improvements in the UK, the world summit on sustainable development in Johannesburg in September brought into stark focus the position elsewhere in the world. One in six of the world's population lacks access to safe drinking water and more than one in three lack adequate sanitation. More than 11,000 species are threatened and as much as two thirds of the world population could soon live in countries suffering from moderate or severe water stress. The problem of water access and the availability of clean water are very much related to climate change, but all these issues relate very directly to the sustainable development that is at the heart of my Department's purpose.
At the world summit, we got international agreement to tough new targets to halve the proportion of people without access to adequate sanitation by 2015. We also, for example, got agreement to work on chemicals and on the marine environment, which had long been considered important by campaigners and by the Government. Of course, with others, we were engaged in launching 200 specific and concrete partnerships to pursue sustainable development initiatives right across the globe.
We said before the Johannesburg summit, we said at Johannesburg and we continue to say now that that meeting was only the beginning of a process and not the end. Internationally—whether through the United Nations or within the EU—we must work to make sure that sustainable development is at the core and in the mainstream of policy making and that we pursue the action plans and ideas set out in Johannesburg. We shall continue to press that case. However, while we continue to pursue sustainable development internationally, we also have to continue to implement our own policies, augmented by the Johannesburg agreements, here at home.
I have already referred to the improvements in air and water quality. We have also implemented a whole package of measures, including the climate change levy and the climate change agreements with energy-intensive sectors of industry, to try to deal with the overall impact of climate change. The creation of the Carbon Trust and the promotion of good-quality combined heat and power, as well as of renewables and energy efficiency, are all key to the Government's domestic agenda.
In April we introduced the world's first economy-wide greenhouse gas emissions trading scheme and, on Tuesday in Brussels, we and our Environment Council colleagues reached agreement on the shape of an EU emissions trading scheme that is to begin in 2005. The twin objectives of our scheme and of the slightly different EU-wide scheme, which has now been agreed, are not only to make emission reductions, but to give the business community a head start on the potentially
billion-dollar carbon market. In the UK, there has already been an encouraging amount of trading in what is, at present, a fledgling market.
Norman Baker (Lewes): Although I am prepared to accept that the Secretary of State's Department takes these matters seriously, is it not true that her writ does not run to other Departments? There have been massive increases in carbon dioxide emissions from the transport sector and this week's statement from the Secretary of State for Transport does nothing to help. There is a huge subsidy for nuclear power and nothing for renewables. Does not the problem arise from the fact that the right hon. Lady cannot deliver across other Departments? [Interruption.]
Margaret Beckett: I am afraid that I missed the hon. Gentleman's second point, although I caught the one about transport. As ever, it is not easy to deliver on these commitments, but we all recognise the concerns that he has identified. We have seen a substantial improvement in public transport, but no one from the Government doubts that there is a great need to do more. The fact that not everything can be done at once does not mean that we are not putting on the right kind of pressure and getting the right kind of response from our colleagues.
Joan Ruddock (Lewisham, Deptford): Has not my right hon. Friend's Department made preparations to examine Government as a whole in terms of a grid so that every Department can be considered from the point of view of sustainability and so that the Johannesburg commitments can be carried through?
Margaret Beckett: My hon. Friend is entirely right. We are undertaking such work. We are now considering what is the most effective action to take and are examining what our European colleagues are doing. We will share good practice so as to give effect to the commitments that we all signed up to in Johannesburg. Globe UK, with which my hon. Friend is associated, made a substantial contribution to illuminating some of the issues. We were grateful to it for that.
We now have the benefit of an updated scientific study on the risks and impact of global climate change associated with greenhouse gases. The whole House will be aware that our royal commission on environmental pollution recently suggested that, to stabilise emissions at a level that does not run the risk of massively increasing environmental damage, we should be aiming for reductions of 60 per cent. or more in emissions by the year 2050. To meet such a challenge, technical innovation is certainly needed.
Technical innovation is particularly needed when it comes to the issue of the emissions coming from developing countries. Their legitimate aspirations for economic development and for growth will inevitably include greater use of energy sources. Therefore, it is all the more important to try to ensure that—whatever the
sources or resources used—they are used to the maximum possible efficiency. We must also look to find renewable and carbon-friendly low-carbon technologies that developing countries can exploit.
This is not the only issue where the Department has to consider and deal with important and controversial technological innovation. Genetic modification is, in itself, a technical tool that allows people to do what the human race has been doing since time began—and this is the entire basis of agriculture. It seeks to find ways of improving breeding stock. Although the technique offers greater speed and precision than age-old breeding techniques, it is not of itself different in kind. However, there is no doubt that it raises a great many genuine questions and real concerns. That is why the Government are now sponsoring a public dialogue to explore the questions and concerns that people have. In this and other areas, we want to be guided by evidence and sound science.
Alan Simpson (Nottingham, South): Does not one of the concerns about GM technology result from the fact that it is fundamentally different from all evolutionary processes? It allows science to cross all the frontiers that nature has previously set. Among the risk considerations that the Government and society have to address are the implications for the ability of infections and illnesses to cross the vectors and frontiers that science is also crossing.
Margaret Beckett: I have mixed feelings about my hon. Friend's observation. In one sense, he is, of course, right. We need to take those issues seriously, and they need careful thought and discussion. However, crossing the frontiers set by nature is what agriculture is and what human beings have been doing since the race first started to try to feed itself more successfully. If we were not doing that, we would not be able to sustain a population on this planet on anything like the scale that we do. He is right to express those anxieties and it is right that they are taken seriously, but it is also right to consider the issues in a proper and sensible context, which is what I hope the dialogue will foster, so that we can decide how to deal with that potent technical tool.
Mr. Weir: Following on from that point, does the right hon. Lady know that in evidence to the Scottish Parliament's Health and Community Care Committee, the British Medical Association called for a moratorium on GM trials until there is more evidence of its long-term effects? She talks about discussing GM further. Does she agree that a moratorium would be sensible until that discussion is concluded?
Margaret Beckett: I am aware of the comments by the Scottish BMA, but I do not wholly share its view. To be fair, I have only seen reports of those comments and I may not have the full picture of the concerns expressed. What seems to have been overlooked, however, is that safety trials have been carried out. I was talking about the wider issue of genetic modification. The hon. Gentleman is talking specifically about the crop trials that are under way. Extensive safety trials were carried out before we got to the stage of growing trial crops on
the present scale. The Government would not have allowed the trials to continue without that safety evaluation. The trials have a specific and restricted remit, which is to look more closely at the environmental effects on a farm-scale basis.
I was slightly surprised to learn that the Scottish BMA made that observation. Science is about trying things out. If we do not, how will we ever carry out the assessments? We need to make those comparisons and to have a mature judgment of the issues while retaining proper respect for people's genuine concerns.
Sir Sydney Chapman (Chipping Barnet): Does the right hon. Lady agree that the issues relating to GM food must be put in the context of the fact that there is less land for growing food, as the deserts expand and urban growth takes place, and that the world's population is expected to increase from 6 billion to 10 billion over the next 50 years?
Margaret Beckett: The hon. Gentleman is right. I am concerned that the general dialogue in the news media in recent months and years has almost omitted to mention the impact that the technology could have on the developing world. That has not been a major factor in the public dialogue hitherto, although I am not, of course, talking about the process that we have just begun. In areas with desertification and salination, there is great potential for the use of that tool, and I know that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development shares that view.
There is yet another area where technological innovation is much needed. There is widespread recognition of the need to tackle the growing waste mountain that we produce. We need to put downward pressure on the levels of waste that we produce and to stimulate investment in new technology that can help us to tackle the problems in the future, whether they be waste minimisation or waste handling.
In the Chancellor of the Exchequer's pre-Budget statement, he reflected a cross-Government commitment to sustainability, including the sustainable handling of waste. He signalled, in particular, proposals in the longer term to increase landfill tax from its present rate of £13 a tonne to £35 a tonne. He also signalled the first steps on that road. He committed himself to reform the landfill tax credit scheme, to reduce the duty on bioethanol and to pursue a series of initiatives to promote more environmentally friendly transport, as well as looking further at fixed incentives to promote household energy efficiency.
Mr. Michael Jack (Fylde): Will the Secretary of State take up some of the issues on the landfill tax credit scheme that were put to her right hon. Friend at a recent House of Commons meeting? It was apparent that the restructuring of the credit scheme will reduce the amount of money available to fund further sustainable waste schemes and other work on the environment because the money that went to the private sector is to become public money, so reducing funding substantially.
reform of the landfill tax credit scheme. Although we recognise that some good things have been done through the scheme, the right hon. Gentleman will know that there has also been a great deal of criticism about some of the work and much concern about whether the money was being used most effectively. It is right for the Government to consider reform in those circumstances. I know that the Select Committee will take a keen interest in those matters and my right hon. Friend, the Minister for the Environment, is mindful of the benefits received from the existing scheme. We will want to do everything we can to preserve the benefits and to do better with other resources.
Sue Doughty (Guildford): We welcome increases in landfill tax, although the tax might not be increasing rapidly enough to make a real environmental difference and to get us closer to sustainable waste. Had a tax on waste going to incineration been announced at the same time, we would be able take the maximum opportunity to invest in recycling rather than in landfill or incineration.
Margaret Beckett: I understand the validity of the hon. Lady's point, but we are trying to ensure that we give the right signals to stimulate the changes in behaviour that we all want to see. We also hope to encourage further investment in, for example, innovative waste treatment. However, we must give people proper time to consider the issues and to make the investment and preparation necessary. We are not in the business of punishing people for doing something; we are trying to encourage them to find ways to change their behaviour.
Mr. Desmond Swayne (New Forest, West): Does the right hon. Lady agree that with respect to at least one element of the waste mountain—disposable nappies—there is a perfectly good old technology for dealing with the problem? It is simply a question of educating the public about that.
Margaret Beckett: Not only do I accept that, but I have some rather revolting experience of it, although I am happy to say that it was many years ago. We need to do a range of things to stimulate behavioural change. One of them is to minimise waste production as well as its handling.
Internally, substantial work is continuing to reform the way in which the Department works and to deliver the policies and proposals to which we are committed. I said at the outset that sustainable development is the Department's core purpose, and it is the principles of sustainable development that we seek to apply throughout our policy areas and portfolios, and to see applied across the Government as a whole and internationally.
Since the foundation of the Department, the times have, indeed, been interesting. They have been challenging, but also enormously fulfilling. Much has already been achieved, but it is a giant task that our Department has been set. I am fortunate in tackling that task, both in my officials and in the strength of my ministerial team. We will continue to strive, first, to identify the policies this country needs to pursue, and then to deliver those policies as effectively as we can. We know how much more we need to do. I hope that we will have the support of the House in that endeavour.
"notes with concern the continuing recession in British agriculture; believes that a profitable farming and growing industry should be at the heart of a thriving rural economy; deplores the Government's mishandling of the foot and mouth epidemic and its failure to take effective action against illegal meat imports; calls upon the Government to reduce rather than increase the costs imposed on farmers and growers by unnecessary regulations; regrets the Government's failure to deliver on its promises to rural-proof its policies and to place sustainable development at the heart of policymaking and its failure to deliver on its own targets for recycling and carbon emissions; notes the repeated and trenchant criticisms made of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs by the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and Environmental Audit Committees and believes that the time is now long overdue for the Government to turn fine words into effective action."
Many of the Government's policy objectives described by the Secretary of State are indeed admirable and, I am sure, command the support of hon. Members on both sides of the House. However, I found the self-congratulatory tone of the Government motion shocking. The sunny picture that it and the Secretary of State paint of the Government's achievements is utterly at odds with the experience of people in our rural communities and the conclusions of successive Select Committee reports. Even when the Government get their policies right, the Department over which the right hon. Lady presides is often incapable of delivering the outcome that Ministers want to achieve.
I shall start with what the Secretary of State described as her Department's overriding purpose—sustainable development. The Department's public service agreement defines DEFRA's overarching aim as promoting sustainable development. It is at the top of the Department's published lists of objectives and performance targets, and the Department's duty is
"to promote sustainable development across government and the country as a whole".
"We are pessimistic about DEFRA's ability to ensure that Government Departments will do more than pay lip service to the objectives of sustainable development."
I am sure that the right hon. Lady does not need to be reminded that the Select Committee has a Labour majority and that 11 Government Members serve on it. It reached that conclusion after listening carefully to the
evidence of key non-governmental organisations that do not have a partisan axe to grind but deal daily with the Department. The Wildlife Trust commented that
"there is evidence of a lack of integration with other Departments on related issues (such as transport and planning)".
"growing sense of frustration and perhaps the inability of the Department to make an impact where it matters on the centre of Government".
"DEFRA has been barely visible in key policy debates, including, for example, on the internal working groups which developed the Planning Green Paper without any DEFRA input".
I shall illustrate that with the example of timber—in many ways, a symbolic issue in the environmental debate. On 28 July 2000, the Minister for the Environment—I openly acknowledge his personal commitment to good environmental policies—announced at column 947W that the previous voluntary guidance would become binding on all Government Departments and their agencies, and they should
"actively seek to buy timber . . . from sustainable and legal sources".—[Official Report, 28 July 2000; Vol. 354, c. 947W.]
"While Government rhetoric has been laudable, we see no systematic or even anecdotal evidence of any significant change in the pattern of timber procurement since July 2000".
The latest evidence appears on the Department's website. Paragraph 4.6.10 of the report "Sustainable Development in Government", published just a few days ago, records a big increase in the last financial year in the Government's timber procurement, but a reduction of 16 per cent. in the proportion of timber bought from certified sustainable sources. Individual Departments are failing to comply with DEFRA's policy—the Department for Work and Pensions said that it cannot provide any information at all about its procurement, and the Ministry of Defence told DEFRA that it cannot provide figures until 2004.
"That DEFRA lacks the capacity to deliver in any policy areas other than the most immediately essential areas must have undermined its ability to commit fully to providing the required leadership and guidance on timber procurement, just as much as its lack of authority has prevented it enforcing the policy across Government."
"most Departments have done the minimum necessary to introduce rural proofing".
"I am not convinced that policy makers generally are giving sufficient thought to the impact on the countryside and people who live there when they develop policies".12 Dec 2002 : Column 422
"I have seen little sign of a fundamental shift in Departmental policies".
I am afraid that we must conclude that the Secretary of State presides over a dysfunctional Department. There is evidence of discontent in No. 10's decision to bring in the strategy unit to rescue a failing waste policy and, more recently, in the decision to appoint Lord Haskins as a temporary tsar over the Government's rural policy. Members of Parliament and, more importantly, our constituents see daily evidence of DEFRA's failure to deliver the services for which it is responsible. Every Member representing a significant agricultural constituency will have received representations from farmers and others concerned with the chaos and sheer incompetence of the Rural Payments Agency.
Matthew Green: Is not the problem with the Rural Payments Agency that it is acting as judge, jury and executioner and behaves as if farmers are guilty until proved innocent? By contrast, the Inland Revenue would assume that someone was innocent until it found evidence of wrongdoing—[Interruption.] Well, perhaps I am being too kind to the Revenue.
Mr. Lidington: It is part of the problem, but in the Department there is a wider failure to develop information technology systems to make online communication between the Department, its agencies and individual farmers practicable.
Recently, the Government almost unbelievably admitted that DEFRA forgot to apply on time for a share of the European Union's 2003 fund for expenditure on efforts to control animal diseases, notably scrapie and BSE. As a result, the United Kingdom ended up as the only member state to get nothing from the fund, and the right hon. Lady has been reduced to pleading with the Commission to accept a late bid. Above all, British agriculture feels betrayed by the gap between Government promise and Government delivery. In that context, I want to comment on the new strategic plan. Having had a couple of hours to look at the three documents published by the Government today, Conservative Members can give a cautious welcome to many of the proposals. We shall clearly want to study them carefully, and I want to come on to one or two aspects of the plan later.
However, the test of today's announcement will be not the presentation of a document or even the admirable list of policy initiatives, but whether today's statement can be turned into effective action to assist British agriculture, which is in the grip of the deepest and longest-lasting recession to affect that industry in living memory. If there is scepticism in our countryside, it is partly because we have had so many strategy documents before—in December 1999, "A New Direction for Agriculture"; in March 2000, an "Action Plan for Farming"; and in 2001, reports from a hills taskforce and an inputs taskforce, to which the Government have even now failed to respond. In the eyes of many farmers and growers in this country, the Government seem at best indifferent and at worst hostile to their industry, at a time when their businesses are fighting for their very survival.
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That does not always mean that the Government need wait for European and international agreement, important though those aspects of the debate are. Let us consider animal disease. It is shameful that we had to wait for the European Parliament in order to get an independent and public inquiry into that devastating epidemic. The European Parliament's inquiry confirmed many of the messages that came through in the report of Dr. Anderson and others. Paragraph 20 stated:
"The British Government's contingency plan was inadequate both before and during the crisis."
"provision of information from state sources to local bodies and the farmers affected was poor and advice from the various government departments was repeatedly altered, inconsistent or even contradictory."It is not enough for the Government to argue that that was all in the past and that things have now moved on.
Let us examine today's strategy document and the reference that is tucked away there to disease insurance. There is a clear signal that the Government intend to impose on farmers at least a large part, if not all, of the financial responsibility for ensuring against the risks of future epidemics. The first thing a livestock farmer is likely to say is that not only is he struggling to make a living, but the level of any premium that an insurance company requires of him will be determined in large measure by the assessment that that insurance company makes of the effectiveness of the Government's policies for stopping disease entering this country again in the first place.
Mr. Bill Wiggin (Leominster): Does my hon. Friend feel as unhappy as I do about the Government's efforts to prevent disease from coming into the country? We still do not have the bins necessary for people to throw away their sandwiches at the airport, and the landing cards have still not been amended so that people can read that they should not be bringing illegal meat into the country.
Mr. Lidington: My hon. Friend is right. It was March when the Government published their action plan. As my hon. Friend says, there are no amnesty bins and there has been no change to landing cards. We had an announcement that Customs and Excise would take over responsibility for enforcing import controls on meat and plant products, but no details of the priority that Customs is to give to that task, nor any details of the budget, resources or manpower that will be available to Customs and Excise to do that important job. The situation was pretty well summed up by the chairman of the Royal Society inquiry, Sir Brian Follett, who when asked by the Select Committee what was missing from the Government's action plan replied with the single word "Action."
The experience of foot and mouth disease and the Government's failure even now to deal with the consequences of that and to take effective precautionary measures for the future could be applied also to the situation as regards bovine tuberculosis. The most recent figures show a further rise in the number of herds infected. We have an epidemic that is spreading way beyond its original hotspots, and there appears on the Government's part to be no strategy beyond waiting for
12 Dec 2002 : Column 424the Krebs trials to conclude over a period of many years. We were promised many months ago the introduction of the gamma interferon test. Yet again, action has lagged greatly behind the promises made by the Government.
Let us take another issue on which national action would be possible: food labelling. In its report on the foot and mouth epidemic, the European Parliament called explicitly for country of origin labelling to be introduced on all food and food products to ensure proper transparency and traceability. Even the European Commission seems ready to review the position on that subject. In their document today, the Government make a few lukewarm noises about looking again at food labelling.
We know that my hon. Friend the Member for Eddisbury (Mr. O'Brien) is to introduce a food labelling Bill later this Session, and that will give Ministers the opportunity to demonstrate whether they are serious about the matter, and whether they are prepared to help British agriculture and consumer choice by introducing a statutory labelling system that will make sure that shoppers are able to tell when the food that they buy was reared or grown in the United Kingdom.
We heard lukewarm words from the Government about competition policy. The Government speak, rightly, about the importance of farmers developing collaborative ventures in order to strengthen their clout in the food chain, but today's strategy document seems a little too satisfied with the current state of UK competition regulations. I am troubled when I see a New Zealand milk co-operative with more than 90 per cent. market share, and similar co-operatives on the continent of Europe with market shares in those countries of well over 70 per cent., and our dairy sector reduced by our competition policy to no more than 40 per cent., if that, of the market.
Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle): I have been in the House for quite a long time. Will the hon. Gentleman explain why his Government destroyed the milk marketing board?
Mr. Lidington: I have two things to say to the hon. Gentleman. First, unlike his Government, I am prepared to learn from experience; I do not feel wedded to decisions taken by previous Governments. I am prepared to look at policy on its merits. Secondly, we are discussing farmers' co-operatives, not state agencies. When we are asking our dairy farmers in particular to go out and compete in a European and, increasingly, in a global market, we must review our competition policy to make sure that it takes account of the realities of global competition that our producers are encountering.
Mr. Curry : As the Minister who took the legislation on the milk marketing board through the House, may I tell my hon. Friend that I have no regrets whatever about that legislation, because the milk marketing board had become an east European-type, top-heavy monopoly based on selling a raw commodity, and was not innovating sufficiently. We needed to bring more market forces into play, and that is now beginning to happen, very sensibly.
Mr. Lidington: We need to find a way to marry the innovation that my right hon. Friend was seeking to
12 Dec 2002 : Column 425achieve—it is clear that dairy producers will gain by getting into value-added milk products—with a capacity that enables dairy farmers to market their product collectively, so that they have sufficient influence in the marketplace when they are faced with very large retail buyers.
When one goes round and speaks to farmers and growers, one finds that the single greatest complaint about Government concerns the burden of regulation. At various times in the recent past, the House has debated a number of such measures in some detail. The 20-day rule is putting at risk the survival of livestock markets throughout the country, as well as that of many individual farmers. We know that fallen stock rules will be introduced next April, but we have not yet seen any details about the proposed new collection service. The Environment Agency is saying that new environmental laws due to be introduced in the next few years could cost farms between £25 million and £40 million and involve up to 200,000 separate agency inspections.
I believe that regulation needs to be more selective and risk based, and that we need to involve the industry at a much earlier stage in discussion about regulations, before the final details are set in stone, whether in Brussels or Whitehall. We need to find ways of reducing the duplication of paperwork and the multiplicity of inspections of our farm businesses. As I am sure the Secretary of State knows, the House of Lords Select Committee on the European Union recently published a report on environmental regulation and agriculture that made a number of important suggestions in that regard. I hope that the Government will take forward a significant number of those proposals.
Mr. Paice: Should not another factor be taken into account in dealing with regulations: the question of how the principles that they involve, many of which stem from European decisions, are being applied by other European Union member states? There is ample evidence to suggest that many regulations that are, to use the jargon, gold-plated in this country are given cursory attention in other European countries. Should we not ensure in future that, before implementing a measure in this country, we see exactly what is happening in the countries with which we must compete?
Mr. Lidington: As my hon. Friend says, we certainly need to keep a sharp eye on what is going on in the rest of Europe, where other countries' producers are competing with our own. I also hear from the agricultural sector of this country, however, that even when regulations are applied equally throughout the EU, there is often a difference of culture in their application. On the continent, the inspector will ask the farmer "How can we work with you to ensure that you can comply with the new law and operate a successful and profitable business?" In Britain, however, the attitude tends to be one of us and them, and the farmer perceives that the regulations dumped on his desk in a massive folder or as part of a lengthy e-mail contain the implicit threat that if he steps the slightest bit out of line, the authorities will be down on him like a ton of bricks. The House of Lords European Union Committee
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suggested ways in which we could try to move on from such a culture, which is currently getting in the way of the profitable operation of businesses.
Mr. Kelvin Hopkins (Luton, North): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
Mr. Lidington: I apologise to the hon. Gentleman, but I should like to move on.
On the environment, as with agriculture, there is a massive gap between the rhetoric of Ministers and the Government's record in practice. Ministers have set ambitious targets for the United Kingdom on carbon emissions, yet emissions have increased in each of the past two years. On recycling, we have seen not only the setting of fine targets, but enthusiasm in the Government to sign up to strict new European legislation. We now find, however, that a quarter of local authorities say that they will not be able to meet their recycling targets for 2005. There is no Government plan to deal with the imminent reduction in the number of sites for hazardous waste disposal, and the disastrous mishandling of the new rules on fridges and freezers has placed enormous financial burdens on local authorities.
Mrs. Angela Browning (Tiverton and Honiton): On refrigerators, does my hon. Friend recall the Minister for the Environment saying that, because of the cost to local authorities of recycling responsibilities, the Government would pay compensation in relation to such new regulations? Is he aware that in the county of Devon, however, we have just heard that there will be a shortfall next year of more than £600,000? That will be the cost to the taxpayer of picking up the tab for Government underfunding on refrigerators alone.
Mr. Lidington: I am afraid that council tax payers in my hon. Friend's constituency are going to be landed with the bill for the Government's inability to understand what the new European legislation they have supported means in practice. I hope that her constituents will know exactly where to place the blame for that increase in their council tax bills.
Mr. Martlew: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
Mr. Lidington: The hon. Gentleman has already had one go.
We have had our fill of ministerial visions, strategy papers and targets.
Margaret Beckett: I have been listening to the hon. Gentleman with great interest. He has made many comments about regulation and so on, and I share his view that it is right that we should become involved in discussions at an early stage. He has been talking a lot about the impact of regulation and how badly it has been handled, but it is my understanding that the regulations that are causing farmers greatest distress and concern are those on nitrate-vulnerable zones, which were introduced in 1991 by the then Conservative Government and have created problems in agriculture that far outstrip—
Mrs. Browning: My hon. Friend was talking about fridges.
Margaret Beckett: Yes, I know. There is no comparison between the impact on the community of
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the fridges regulations and that of the nitrate-vulnerable zones regulations. The fridges regulations pale into insignificance in that regard, so a little more recognition from the hon. Gentleman of that widespread problem would be welcome.
Mr. Lidington: I am astonished that the right hon. Lady chooses to mount a defence of the Government's record on the basis of their approach to nitrate-vulnerable zones. The reason why we have to contend with such an oppressive regime on NVZs is that her Government failed even to enter a defence at the European Court of Justice. The judgment was made against them because they simply failed to argue a case.
Mr. Paice: Has my hon. Friend had a chance to see one of the documents published this morning, in which the Government's own figures show that nitrate concentrations in our rivers have fallen over the past seven years? Therefore, the justification for a countrywide NVZ simply does not exist. Most regions have seen a reduction of nitrates in their rivers. We should concentrate on the areas where the problem has not been resolved.
Mr. Lidington: My hon. Friend makes his point well.
The credibility of the Government with farmers and environmentalists alike is in shreds, because they have repeatedly failed to make good the promises that they were so free in making. That is why the House should reject their complacent motion.
Paddy Tipping (Sherwood): The hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Lidington) began his speech by commenting on the motion. I think that he called it self-congratulatory, but I disagree with that view and with a number of the points that he made. I would describe the motion in different terms, as I believe that it is ambitious in substance, scope and scale, and deals with national and international issues that are highly complex and very difficult. In that context, I shall confine my remarks to a narrower picture, as I want to deal with British agriculture and rural communities, and the British countryside. That is enough for one afternoon, as there are plenty of problems for us to solve.
The countryside is not static. One of the issues that is currently around in the countryside is the cry "Listen to us", which often means "Listen to us: we don't want to change." That is based on a false perception. The countryside has always changed and it will always have to change to survive. If we want a living and working countryside, we must have a farming industry and a countryside that have the ability to take the challenge and make the change. It is how we manage that change that is so important.
There is no doubt in my mind that the farming sector is in crisis. After a long period, farming incomes are beginning to rise.
Mr. Roger Williams (Brecon and Radnorshire): Does the hon. Gentleman agree that with 15,000 fewer farmers left in the industry in recent times, there will be fewer people to face the challenge and make the change?
Paddy Tipping: There are fewer farmers to face the challenge and to make the change. The prospects are still
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difficult. I believe that more people will leave the industry before the change occurs. Farming is in crisis. There has been a period of prolonged difficulty that has been driven by low commodity prices and by a strong pound. The difficulty has been compounded by BSE and the foot and mouth outbreak. These things brought a crisis in public confidence about the food that is available to us.
Mr. Curry: Given the economic and statistical analysis that has been produced today, does the hon. Gentleman agree that the trend that he has identified in British farming is the trend Europe wide? The decline in farmers and in farm holdings is happening throughout the European Union, very much for the same reasons. I am sure that our debate could be reproduced in any national parliament in the EU on very much same terms.
Paddy Tipping: I agree entirely with that. International pressures, the way the world has changed and the issues that the Secretary of State has talked about in the international setting will drive the trend even further. However, more locally at a national level, the tragedy of foot and mouth disease has been a trigger or catalyst for change. I think that following the outbreak there has been a recognition throughout the farming sector that things cannot stay as they are and that we must change. The Curry report on the future of food and farming, which was published almost a year ago, has received some criticism. However, by and large there is a consensus that it is the way forward. It is important to praise Sir Don and to acknowledge that many of the points made in this morning's statement on the strategy for sustainable food and farming come straight from his report.
I broadly support that way forward. However, my major and real concern is the passage of time. It is more than 18 months since we were faced with foot and mouth disease. Although there has been consensus for change, I have a feeling that people are slipping back into the bad old ways. Many people decided to come out of livestock farming after foot and mouth, but farmers have begun to restock and to turn to the old family traditions. The strategy that has been announced this morning is, I hope, an agenda for action.
I agree with the hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Lidington) that it is important quickly to make more progress. Much can be praised in the statement, but we need to consider things that were left out. I think that there is a strong feeling throughout the House that we should consider non-food crops, especially biofuels and biomass. I am disappointed that we do not have more concrete proposals in that area in the strategy that has been set out. I know that that is not entirely within the gift of my right hon. Friend. Treasury incentives will drive things forward. I am mindful of the fact that excise duty on biodiesel has fallen, as it has on bioethanol. However, it has not yet reached the level that will take the industry forward and provide a valuable and secure crop for farmers.
Mr. Weir: Does the hon. Gentleman agree that to get bioethanol off the ground, as it were, there will need to be substantial investment? Farmers, after experience with some other crops, will not go into growing non-
12 Dec 2002 : Column 429food crops in a large way until processing plant is available. Investment must be made in the plant in the first place.
Paddy Tipping: I agree entirely with that. That is why, fairly recently, I took British Sugar and Cargill to meet Treasury Ministers. I will not divulge detail, but both British Sugar and Cargill put concrete proposals on the table at the Treasury to show how the necessary investment and infrastructure could be built. In a sense, the ball is now in the Treasury's court. If it wants us to achieve our targets for renewables and if it wants to see investment in manufacturing, it must examine closely the proposals that have been put forward. In fairness to the Treasury, we have seen some movement, but it has been piecemeal, rather than the step change that we need to take the industry forward.
Mr. John Hayes (South Holland and The Deepings): The hon. Gentleman has made a compelling case for biocrops. I know that he has a long history of doing so. He says that the problem is a piecemeal approach and a lack of interdepartmental work. In a sense, does that not lie at the hub of the problem in terms of this morning's announcement? Some of it is interesting and parts of it are welcome, but it is not really a strategy in the sense that he identifies.
Paddy Tipping: The Treasury's strategy is straightforward. It would like to see biofuels take off, but it would like that to happen for nothing. What is new? We are talking about the Treasury. We are climbing the steps of the mountain and eventually we shall get the Treasury to the peak, when the vision will become clear to it. However, those of us who have worked on these issues for many years know that these things take time. I merely say that we are getting there.
My right. Hon Friend the Minister for the Environment, who was in his place on the Government Front Bench for the early part of the debate, has been a leading advocate to take us forward. I think that we shall achieve that.
In relative terms, the strategy set out this morning is weak when it comes to pollution issues. There is no doubt in my mind—I know that there is denial in the industry—that farming is a big polluter. The strategy sets out little about that. I am disappointed that more is not said about how we can use the land for flood prevention. That is the soft flood-plain approach or the water meadow approach. These are things that we can make progress towards and build upon.
In a real way, there are two themes in this morning's announcement that spring from the Curry report. First, we must link farming and food much more closely. I am amazed when I talk to farming friends to find that few of them have a business plan. I am amazed also when I find how few of them are aware of their marketing strategy. Similarly, I am amazed at how far many of the producers are from the marketplace, from the consumers. It seems that more and more people buy ready-made goods, convenience goods from the
12 Dec 2002 : Column 430supermarket. We must connect the chain. One of the strengths of this morning's report is a recognition that investment is needed to enable these things to be done.
Andrew George: If the hon. Gentleman believes that the most important thing is to connect food production with sale, does he agree that having a rural recovery co-ordinator who comes from the processing sector preaching at farmers will not necessarily be the best approach?
Paddy Tipping: I sometimes think that prophets are not recognised in this context. If we are talking about a farmer in his own right, he will have a robust view of life. I agree that if we are to compete—allegedly we have the most efficient farmers in Europe—we shall have to see further efficiency gains. To take up the point made by the right hon. Member for Skipton and Ripon (Mr. Currie), we see larger and larger holdings. I am concerned about traditional family farmers and tenant farmers. The scenario looks bleak for them unless they can find niche markets or specialist markets, and they do not exist for everybody. Only a small sector of farming can turn to them.
I therefore commend the second part of the strategy on the importance of the environment. That springs from the Curry report, and was well documented in this morning's strategy statement. The message that I took from the foot and mouth outbreak was the importance to the rural economy of people visiting the countryside. Of course farmers suffered, but when the rights of way network shut, the countryside was closed to people. Bed-and-breakfasts and tourist attractions, and thus the rural economy, genuinely suffered.
People want to visit the countryside because of the landscape and the environment. There is nothing wrong with asking whether that is the sort of countryside that we want and for which we are prepared to pay. Should we pay farmers to provide such a countryside? Those matters are well documented in the Curry report.
An entry scheme and the review of agri-environment schemes constitute an important way forward. I counsel my hon. Friends on the Front Bench that it is not an easy road. Different members of the public define public good differently. What is good for a member of the RSPB may not be good for a member of the Ramblers Association. There is potential for conflict, and we must therefore work matters out carefully. We must also be careful that the entry scheme and agri-environment payments are not subsidies by another name. The World Trade Organisation and other bodies will consider that carefully. We need a strategy for answering their questions.
I am also worried about value for money. One of the reviews of the agri-environment scheme examines the fact that some schemes cost more to deliver and administer than to operate. If we are not careful, we could find ourselves trying to micro-manage the environment. The needs in the Yorkshire dales are different from those in the Lincolnshire fens. We need a scheme that is sufficiently flexible but careful enough to achieve our ends. Most important, we need to understand the consequences of the switch from
12 Dec 2002 : Column 431subsidies on production to payment for public and environmental goods. In so far as I can ascertain, no modelling has been done on that.
Mr. Jack: Does the hon. Gentleman believe that we are clear about the environmental goods that we would like to buy?
Paddy Tipping: There needs to be a vigorous debate about that and the entry scheme that will soon start. I believe that we are moving in the right direction and I am pleased that the schemes will be piloted for two years. However, there is a limited number of pilot schemes, and I have the impression that the piloting will consider the administration and operation of the scheme rather than the output. If so, we should be worried. Ministers have said that they do not want to be too restrictive and prescriptive about the scheme. However, we will pay public money for public goods and we must be able to define the reward clearly and carefully. I am not persuaded that we have such a definition yet.
I am not sure whether the timetable is right. I understand that there is a two-year trial period followed by a national roll-out. Given the pressures on the industry, I do not believe that we are sufficiently clear about the time scale.
Mr. Paice: I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on an exceptional speech, which is seriously addressing the subject. On public goods, did he read the article in last week's Farmers Weekly, entitled "First Glimpse of Flagship Green Scheme—how the broad and shallow scheme will work"? It went into immense detail about, for example, the number of points that farmers would receive for all sorts of different details. What is his opinion of that? I should also like a Minister to pick up the point and say in the winding-up speech whether the sort of scheme outlined in Farmers Weekly will be effected.
Paddy Tipping: I saw the article, which reassured me a little. However, my point is slightly different. I guess that the audience for Farmers Weekly is fairly self-selecting. That publication is not a big seller. There should be a wider public debate about the entry scheme and what we want from it. I am not clear that we have reached that point. I am not sure that we have got the administration right. My preference is to move to a whole-farm approach for inspection. There is a strong case for registering the keeping of livestock. I should like to reach a position where one body inspected and advised farmers annually or more regularly. I hope that we can move towards that, and hold discussions with the NFU and others about doing so.
I have already mentioned access. The motion mentions people's desire to visit the countryside. The Secretary of State can be proud of what has been achieved. After 100 years of struggling, we have a right to roam freely in the open countryside: true Labour values delivered by a modern Labour Government. We should not be afraid to tell people about such achievements.
We should also not be afraid to implement measures. Parts of the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 will not come into force until 2005. I am delighted that
12 Dec 2002 : Column 432the Minister for Rural Affairs, who is enthusiastic—perhaps sometimes over-enthusiastic—has concluded that we can allow access on a regional basis. That is good news for those of us who want to visit the countryside. I am also pleased that the Act provides for rights-of-way improvement plans. Arguments in the Ramblers Association mirror those in the Labour party between traditionalists and modernisers. Some people say that the directions of footpaths can never change because they are our historic legacy; others want a rights-of-way network that fulfils present local needs. Some exciting work can be carried out under the Act.
The Countryside and Rights of Way Act must allow people from the town to visit the countryside. I despair of those throughout the country, but especially in the countryside, who try to drive a wedge between urban and rural dwellers. That is a recipe for disaster. The rural and urban White Papers are two bookends on the same shelf. We need to be clear about the reciprocal relationship between town and country. I shall give two examples.
Earlier, I mentioned the benefits to the countryside of visitors, and the tragedy when they were not able to visit post-foot and mouth. Let us consider farmers' markets—parts of the countryside brought to the town. They are valuable to both communities.
Another, starker example is the need for more housing. We must build sustainable housing. We need small dwellings in town centres and to move away from the trend of building five-bedroomed, executive ranches in the countryside. We need to work for reciprocity in Government policy.
Sue Doughty: The hon. Gentleman has been saying some very interesting and helpful things. Does he agree that one of our problems is that an increasing number of young people are growing up with no real understanding of how farming contributes to the countryside in which we live today? Furthermore, these children are growing up and buying food that may not have been produced on British farms. Might it be helpful to develop a programme for schoolchildren to visit our farms and see the high quality of food that is produced there, to give them a greater understanding of the issues?
Paddy Tipping: I agree with all that. Organisations such as the National Farmers Union, for example, know conceptually that this needs to be done, but have not been particularly smart at delivering the goods. I used to take youngsters out from the middle of St. Anne's in Nottingham—my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, South (Alan Simpson) knows the area well. We would go out in the minibus and, as soon as we saw a stream, they would know we were in Derbyshire. I remember having many conversations about where the milk that arrived in St. Anne's actually came from. That is the kind of education that is necessary. That is why I am so concerned about the small group of determined people who, for their own ends, want to try to drive a wedge between the needs of urban dwellers and those of people who live in the countryside. It is in no one's interest to do that.
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We are not particularly strong on policy relating to the urban fringes. I am pleased with the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000, but I visit the countryside regularly—
Mr. Patrick McLoughlin (West Derbyshire): I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. He has talked about not wanting to drive a wedge between the countryside and the urban population. Does he view with concern, as I do, the Government's proposals to reduce the size of the national parks? It is very important that those parks should have a wide variety of members on their boards. Implementation of the review that the Government published in July would lead to substantial reductions in the number of people serving on those boards.
Paddy Tipping: My criticism of national parks is that there are not enough outsiders on their boards. When I talk to people who are on those boards, they say that outsiders can often bring value. I was concerned, when the legislation relating to this issue was passed, at the dominance of the boards by large sections of parish councillors. They contribute something, but they sometimes do so in a negative way. What I want to say to my hon. Friend the Minister is, "Get on and designate some more national parks soon!" That is on the agenda; let us make sure that it happens, particularly before the next general election.
Let me return to the subject of urban fringes. As I said, I do not think that our policies on them are particularly good. Urban fringes are the places where old cars go to die, or to be burned out, and where people go to fly-tip. At the moment, we are just not clever enough at designing policies to help us with the transition from the built-up areas to the countryside.
I want to mention a particular experience that I had last week. I went to see the Hammond family at New Farm, at Redhill. They rent a field from the city council near Bestwood country park. It is a pasture, a piece of grassland. Local youngsters from Bestwood estate use it as a place for Tarzan adventures and bonfires. Dog-walkers also go there. We ought to design our policies and use our resources to provide imaginative opportunities to resolve the problems of the urban fringes.
I am also concerned about the fly-tipping that takes place around the countryside. We need to be clear, in our policies relating to the landfill tax, how we are going to manage and resolve that problem. I am particularly keen on an old colliery site in Nottinghamshire—the Gedling colliery—which is right on the eastern end of the built-up area. It is badly contaminated, but people aspire to turn it into a country park. At the moment, however, there is no real vehicle to make that happen. The Office of the Deputy Prime Minister is talking about the notion of a land regeneration trust. This site could be a prime candidate to provide a new country park. It would be a piece of alchemy to take the mud heaps of the old traditional mining industry and create part of a new Sherwood forest. We ought to have the ability and the imagination to achieve that.
We need to bring new opportunities into rural areas, and to acknowledge that farming is no longer the backbone of the rural economy. We need policies that
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will bring new investment into rural areas. I am slightly alarmed, as I see broadband develop across urban areas, at the difficulties that we will have in giving people in rural areas those same opportunities. I am also keen for us to review planning policies. PPG7 relates to diversification. I constantly struggle with local authorities in my area to try to persuade them to be more flexible about business opportunities—to let a wood yard grow a little more; to consider allowing the stables and the forge that provide specialist veterinary help; and to acknowledge that there might be a need for a house on that site. Our planning policies are far too restrictive. I know that they were reviewed 18 months ago, but if we are to develop the kind of enterprise that I want, we need to move further on this. As I have said, the countryside is not set in aspic, and we need to ensure that we have a strategy for change.
We also need to set the strategy in a wider international context. I agree with the point made by the hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Lidington) about European legislation and directives. More and more of our work on waste legislation and environmental legislation will come from Europe. I was at the Commission recently, with some of my hon. Friends and other hon. Members, and it was interesting to note how enthusiastic members of the Commission were about British Ministers and British civil servants. Our problem is that we do not engage early enough in the emerging debate. We do not shape the debate or the future of the legislation at an early enough stage. The refrigerator issue and the nitrate directive particularly illustrate that point. We do not work through, at the conceptual stage, what finally the practicalities on the ground are going to be.
All this is achievable, but it is not going to be easy. The mid-term review is not going to be easy, and I think that the CAP reform is going to be almost impossible. We have the chance, however, to make the kinds of change that I am advocating. We can modulate farm policies in our own sector far more than we are doing at the moment. That is the message that I want the Minister to take away with him. We have made a good start through the English rural development programme, but there is much more to be done. We must move away from the notion that farmers can somehow rely on the state, and towards the notion that they can provide something more for the environment. We must also move towards the notion that we need more rural business. That is why the countryside has to change, and why change is inevitable. I say to my hon. Friend the Minister that we have an agenda for action, and it is action that we want. It is time to put the theory into practice.
Norman Baker (Lewes): I welcome the opportunity for a debate on the new Department, although I am sorry that the Secretary of State is no longer with us. The debate takes place against the background of the Select Committee report, to which other hon. Members have referred, and the publication today of the strategy for sustainable farming and food, to which I will return in a moment.
The hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Lidington) called the Government motion "self-congratulatory". The hon. Member for Sherwood (Paddy Tipping), some
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30 minutes ago, called it "ambitious"—a very creative term in the circumstances, if I may say so. The picture painted in the motion is perhaps not quite so blissfully wonderful as he might think. If I may be slightly rude to the Minister, the word that springs to my mind is "smug". [Interruption.] The Minister should wait, as I may say something nice in a moment. Liberal Democrats want his Department to succeed. It may be flawed, but it is the only Department that creatively and actively promotes proper sustainability in government. It is the only Department that takes environmental issues seriously and champions the needs of rural areas. All those issues are terribly important, so it is vital that DEFRA succeeds.
The Prime Minister was right to change the arrangements and mechanisms of government to abolish the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, because it had run out of road. It was known in some circles as the Ministry for Agro-chemicals, Fishy Excuses and Food Poisoning. No Department with such a reputation should be allowed to continue. The creation of a rural affairs Department was right, and the Government should get credit for that.
However, DEFRA has had a difficult birth, and its first few months have not been without difficulties, whether it has been on the environment, the foot and mouth epidemic or other farming-related problems. I shall deal with the Department's internal record, and then briefly with its external record and how effective it is in persuading other Departments to adopt its sustainable approach. That approach is terribly important. The Secretary of State said that sustainability was her Department's overriding purpose. If she is rightly to put such weight on sustainable development, it is important that we consider how well it has done.
I shall refer briefly to today's Government reponse on sustainable farming and food. I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for St. Ives (Andrew George) will catch your eye during the debate, Madam Deputy Speaker, as I know that he wishes to address that issue. Like all hon. Members, I have only been able to have a brief reading of the report. It is fair to say that, as with many Government documents, it is good on rhetoric but less good on action. It tends to push all the difficult issues over the horizon.
Sometimes that is not the Government's fault. All parties in the House are signed up to CAP reform, but the Government cannot deliver that themselves. If they could reform the CAP by themselves, they would have done so, but they must secure European Union agreement. The CAP is a drain on the EU budget, it is an unsustainable way of farming, it gives 80 per cent. of direct subsidy to 20 per cent. of holdings, and it is not something that any of us could sensibly defend, yet the Government's response is weak. It says that they will continue to press for change. We have been told that for some time. The Minister may say, "What else can we do?", but I think that the Government should press harder and more firmly. He should speak to the Foreign Secretary and consider the impact of enlargement. In my view, it is important to get some CAP reform before enlargement if possible, because it will be much more
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difficult to achieve that when euros are raining down on the new members in eastern Europe, who will have reason to keep the present system going.
Hugh Bayley (City of York): Like the Liberal Democrats, I would like to see substantial reform of the common agricultural policy. Liberal democrat parties are in power in six EU member states: Italy, Finland, Denmark, the Netherlands, Luxembourg and Belgium. Has the Liberal Democrat party in this country made representations to its opposite numbers in those countries to press them to agree to some of the proposals that our Government have made?
Norman Baker: I am happy to confirm that we have made representations to our sister parties in those countries. We have also done that through the European Parliament, where our MEPs have been active on this issue. The countries to which the hon. Gentleman refers are not those most resistant to change. I am thinking of France and other countries where resistance is greater. He is right that we need to work with our European sister parties, as the Labour party does, to try to bring about change.
Besides the CAP problem, there is still the difficulty of the strength of the pound. Without wishing to be unhelpful to the Conservatives, I must put on record my view that, had we entered the euro earlier, the position of farmers in this country would be rather less dire than it is at present. The strength of the pound is a significant factor. According to the National Farmers Union, average income per farmer is just £10,700 per annum, and 67,000 jobs have been lost in the past six years.
Today's Government response says the right things, but does not take much further forward the issue of food miles and the power of the supermarkets. Recommendation 84 says:
"The food industry should re-examine supply routes to reduce journeys wherever sensible."With due respect to the Government, that will not get us very far, because the industry will carry on with existing practices, which suit them well. We should put real pressure on supermarkets to ensure that they start to source locally, which they do not want to do. Farmers markets are great, and we all support them—it is good that they are increasing in number—but until we deal with the supermarkets, these problems will not go away.
Mr. Weir: I agree with the hon. Gentleman about supermarkets, but can he suggest practical ways in which that pressure can be applied when dealing with large companies with huge economic power that are beholden to shareholders rather than to the general community?
Norman Baker: We certainly need something stronger than a code of practice. We should deal with the power of the supermarkets. The Competition Commission should be more involved in dealing with the power of the supermarkets, which seem to have disproportionate control over the retail chain.
Animal transport is a further issue. I would like to have seen more from the Government on minimising the movement of animals for slaughter. There has been a contraction in the number of abattoirs in the past 20 or
12 Dec 2002 : Column 43730 years, which has gone way beyond what was required. There are no abattoirs in my constituency, where once there were three. Animals are taken long distances for slaughter, which is bad for the animals, bad for the farmer who has to pay for that, and bad for the environment. The Government should concentrate on getting more abattoirs and filling the gaps that have opened up, but I see no evidence that that is occurring.
The Government have taken welcome steps on illegal meat imports by concentrating resources on Her Majesty's Customs and Excise. However, concentrating on Customs will not achieve much unless there are sufficient Customs officers. At Newhaven in my constituency, 14 officers have to cover a huge stretch of coast on a 24-hour shift. The idea that they can do much to stop illegal meat imports or anything else is fanciful. They will not be able to do that. We must get more Customs officers in our ports.
As for serious animal diseases, especially the foot and mouth outbreak in the previous 12 months, I do not want to rake over old ground, but as a consequence of that episode, the Treasury has decided to punish DEFRA by cutting its budget, so there is less money for the environment and for those issues that the Minister and his colleagues say they want to pursue.
In his speech, the hon. Member for Aylesbury quoted the Select Committee when he referred to sustainable development. It is important to understand that the general view outside Government, which is shared by Liberal Democrat Members, is that DEFRA is not able to deliver beyond its own boundaries. That is an important point for the Minister to pick up, because no matter how well intentioned he and his colleagues are, if they cannot deliver across those boundaries, their effect will be limited. Friends of the Earth said:
"Environment officials and Ministers have been marginalised, and distanced from the big decisions."
"The environment overall is becoming divorced from other Government policy decisions. A key concern is the relationship between Defra and other government departments. The Greening Government initiative no longer benefits from a senior member of the government"—
"championing it, and the use of environmental appraisal elsewhere in government is distinctly patchy."
"a policy ghetto for green issues."There is a perception that DEFRA is not able to deliver across government, which is what sustainable development requires if the Government are to deliver their agenda. They must face up to that problem, and deal with it head on, but the Secretary of State did not do that in her introduction to the debate.
I pay tribute to the Department when it has got it right. It has made good progress on dealing with sewage discharges and ensuring that secondary treatment is available for all towns with a population of 15,000 or above. It has made good progress in a number of areas. It is only fair to say that—but it is equally fair to say that the Department has not made progress in other respects. For instance, it was set a target on wildlife: to bring into
12 Dec 2002 : Column 438favourable condition by 2010 95 per cent. of all nationally important wildlife sites, the current percentage being 60. The year 2010 is some way away and the Government may say "We will get there", but the fact remains that fewer sites are now in "favourable condition" than was the case two years ago, according to the sixth Committee report.
Both my hon. Friend the Member for Guildford (Sue Doughty) and I are worried about waste management. The target requires 17 per cent. of household waste to be recycled by 2004. At the end of 2001 the recycling rate was 11.2 per cent., up from 10.5 per cent. the year before. I do not think that there is a chance of it getting anywhere near 17 per cent., because there are not sufficient financial incentives for councils, private businesses or anyone else to achieve that target.
I recently visited the constituency of the Minister for the Environment, who, unfortunately, is not present at the moment. Oldham's Liberal Democrat council told me that it had wanted to replace PVC windows in a tower block, but that it would have cost £9 to recycle each window, against £5 in landfill costs. The council got round that by making a deal with Remploy, but all the economic signals are pointing in the wrong direction. The Government are right to introduce higher landfill taxes, but I question whether they are moving fast enough to meet their recycling targets.
The Government do not want to talk about incineration. A failure to promote recycling properly, however, along with a rise in landfill tax, will drive local authorities in particular into the arms of incineration. I can tell the Minister that people up and down the country do not want incineration. They do not consider it safe, and they rightly think that it undermines recycling because the waste stream is diverted. Moreover, it requires the concentration of resources in one place and many transport movements. Nevertheless, it may well be introduced through the back door because of the lack of incentives for recycling and reusing, let alone the minimising of waste generation in the first place. I am sorry to say that the Department has not dealt with that. Incidentally, the amount of glass being recycled fell from 27 per cent. to 26 per cent. last year. If we cannot even get that right, we are in some difficulty, are we not?
I do not want to be entirely negative about what the Department has done internally. It has done many good things, and its intentions are entirely right. I genuinely believe that it has a good ministerial team: Ministers are committed to their task and do their best. Nevertheless, there are clearly teething problems. There is a mismatch between the part that came from the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions and the part that came from the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. There are also problems with staff morale, which were picked up by the Committee. They are due partly to the variation in salaries—an inherited problem—but the current 20 per cent. turnover rate in junior-grade staff would be high in any Department. Furthermore, my right hon. Friend the Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) said in the House on another occasion that 83 per cent. of targets had been missed. It is not exactly a success story so far.
We want DEFRA to work, and if we can help it to work, we will. However, some reassessment is needed of how it is working internally and, more importantly, of its clout across Government.
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I fear that the Government—deliberately or unintentionally—have downgraded the environment. I am not saying that the DETR was perfect—it certainly was not—but in that big Department the environment and transport were linked because transport has such an impact on the environment. There was a 10-year transport plan, which many people think was quite beneficial environmentally. Moreover, the relevant Minister was the Deputy Prime Minister, who had some clout. Let me say, with due respect to the Secretary of State and to DEFRA generally, that the new Department does not possess the same clout. It is, for instance, difficult for DEFRA to lead on climate change without being able to pull the necessary levers.
Mr. David Chaytor (Bury, North): The hon. Gentleman spoke of the impact of the new Department across Government. Does he accept, having paid tribute to the commitment and ability of the ministerial team, that what ultimately matters more than the work of the Department is the work and commitment of the Treasury and the Department of Trade and Industry? Does he accept that many of the Department's intentions can be implemented only if we manage to change the culture in the Treasury?
Norman Baker: Indeed. The hon. Gentleman has a proud record on the environment, and knows what he is talking about. My point was that when the Deputy Prime Minister was in charge of the DETR, there was a chance that he might be able to speak to the Chancellor and get some of his own way. The evidence so far does not convince me that that applies now. I say that with due respect to the Secretary of State and her colleagues.
The Secretary of State talks of a 60 per cent. cut in carbon dioxide emissions, which is indeed desirable, but what is happening? Perhaps emissions are being reduced in Nobel House—I do not know what the Department is doing internally—but they are not being reduced where it matters, which is in the Department of Transport and the DTI. Aircraft emissions, for instance, are expected to double from about 20,000 tonnes in 1990 to 40,000 tonnes in 2010, and, according to a parliamentary answer given last week, a further increase is anticipated.
A Conservative Member mentioned earlier that ours is effectively a "predict and provide" policy on airports and air travel. It seems that any demand for air travel must be met. That policy is not environmentally sustainable, but it is the policy that we have, and it is making it far more difficult for DEFRA to curb carbon dioxide emissions. Indeed, the Department is not tackling that task. The Secretary of State said earlier that she had spoken to the Secretary of State for Transport about aircraft emissions, but, if we assume that she conveyed the right message, it seems that she lost. She must have been overruled, because her colleague went ahead anyway.
We have seen a transport statement this week that goes back to the days of road building, saying that the car is king again and minimising the role of public transport. There is no getting away from this. We have a mad situation in which the Government are able to finance road schemes directly, but to say "If you want a rail scheme, go and talk to the Strategic Rail Authority". What does the SRA say? It says "The
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money has all been spent. Another £58 million was spent on Connex this morning"—or whatever company it happens to be—"and we have no money left because it has all gone to train operating companies."
According to multi-modal studies throughout the country, roads are going ahead and public transport is not. We must grapple with that problem, or we will see an increase in carbon dioxide emissions—as, indeed, we already are. This is one reason why they have increased in the past two years. What is the Government's strategy for reducing them? We have had nothing today from the Minister or any other Labour Member.
Mr. Chaytor: Has the hon. Gentleman seen the recent report of the royal commission on environmental pollution, which deals with air transport? Will he commit himself to supporting its call for a duty on aviation fuel?
Norman Baker: I am happy to say that I will. The Liberal Democrats have long believed that aviation fuel should be taxed. Fuel for motor vehicles is taxed; why should aircraft be excepted? In the current artificial situation, air travel is effectively subsidised in a way that is unsustainable, because it does immense environmental damage especially on short-haul journeys. Why are aeroplanes flying from London to Manchester when there is what ought to be a perfectly adequate rail system? I can give one reason for that, as I went to Manchester the other day: the last train from Manchester leaves at about 8.10 pm. Until our rail systems work, such problems will continue.
DEFRA should be dealing with transport by lobbying very hard and achieving environmental aims, but it is not doing so. According to a parliamentary answer of 20 November, the cost of motoring went from a base of 100 in 1974 to 98.7 in 2001. In other words, motoring became cheaper over those 27 years, never mind the fuel protests. Over the same period, the cost of traffic by rail went from a base of 100 to 185.3. That is an 85 per cent. increase in the cost of rail travel. The bus figure went up from 100 to 166—a 66 per cent. increase in the cost of bus travel. Since the Government came to power, the cost of motoring has gone down again and the cost of bus and train travel has gone up. How does that help deal with carbon dioxide emissions or with the Minister's strategy for tackling climate change? It does not help at all—DEFRA must get a grip on the Department of Transport but it fails to do so.
The Department of Trade and Industry is responsible for energy, and DEFRA is left with bits and pieces such as home energy efficiency. The DTI produces the nuclear waste and DEFRA is left to clear it up. The polluter does not pay in Government; the DTI and the Department of Transport—the polluters—do not pay. DEFRA has to pick up the waste stream, which is wrong. The DTI and the Department of Transport should be greened, and if they are not going to be greened by the Prime Minister, there should be a mechanism in place by which DEFRA can do it.
The situation with regard to energy is almost unbelievable. According to a parliamentary answer that I received recently, the amount spent on the nuclear industry in 1997–98 was £94.3 million, and by 2000–01 it had reached £223.4 million. That is a massive increase
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and does not even include the £650 million for British Energy. It is hard to imagine any other industry saying that it has got into difficulties and needs a blank cheque. That figure would pay for doorstep recycling up and down the country for every house twice over, yet we are handing it over to the nuclear industry because it has failed. Why are we so obsessed with the nuclear power argument? We have a failed industry, both generators are bankrupt, yet the Government give them more money time after time.
What are the Government doing to help renewable energy? According to another parliamentary answer, the renewable energy support in 2000–01 was £13.6 million. So the nuclear industry was given a wad of money, but only a few coins were thrown to renewable energy.
Mr. Jack: Is the hon. Gentleman yet able to reply to the long list given by the Minister for Energy and Construction of wind power projects for renewable energy, to which Liberal Democrat Members, from the north of Scotland to the south of England, appeared to object?
Norman Baker: The Minister for Energy and Construction used that particular debate as an opportunity to avoid the issue of nuclear energy. Instead, he indulged in a load of rhetoric. The examples that he gave were out of context and misleading. My party leader is firmly supportive of the wind energy project in his constituency and my hon. Friend the Member for North Norfolk (Norman Lamb) fully supports the wind power project in his. The picture painted by the Minister is untrue and misrepresents my party.
Mr. John Hayes (South Holland and The Deepings): I am delighted that the hon. Gentleman has allowed me to intervene. I want to be absolutely clear about this. The hon. Gentleman is saying quite unequivocally that his party is committed to wind power, even where that means erecting large numbers of wind turbines in fenland landscapes, for example, that might spread across other unspoilt landscapes. Is that the ground on which the hon. Gentleman is proud and pleased to stand? We want to know so that we can let constituents across the country know it too.
Norman Baker: That comes from a member of the party that gave us nuclear power stations, with tens of thousands of tonnes of nuclear waste left for hundreds of years. Let us have no lectures about the environment from the Conservatives. We have a presumption in favour of wind power and our councils and Members of Parliament up and down the country support it. The hon. Gentleman gives an extraordinary description of wind farms filling every nook and cranny of the countryside, but they are subject to the planning process just like anything else, and local factors will be taken into account. That is what the planning process is for. However, there must be a presumption in favour of wind power. In addition, a significant amount of the money presently in nuclear power should be transferred to renewables and energy efficiency.
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Until we have such policies, all the good words and rhetoric from DEFRA will not do much. It is not because DEFRA is deliberately misleading us—I think that it believes what it says, but it cannot deliver. What will DEFRA do to knock heads together in other Departments and ensure that they deliver on the policies that the Minister and his Department set out?
Alan Simpson (Nottingham, South): I congratulate the Government on holding this debate in Government time and on couching the motion in such wide terms, allowing us to attempt to connect the local to the global. That is the major challenge that we face, not only as a Parliament but as a society.
There is much that the Government can feel proud of and excited about in relation to a number of the programmes that have been put forward. The strategy document on sustainable farming and food has to be right to set new and higher standards for food safety. It must be right that we set and meet higher standards for animal welfare. Those are matters on which the House should unite. So, too, should be the commitment to look for sustainable procurement policies. The question is: how do we get there?
Just over a year ago a document produced by a group called Sustain analysed food consumption and trade in the United Kingdom. The document was called "Eating Oil" and was a sad but salutary reminder of exactly what is happening in United Kingdom and European Union food trade. Product by product, we appear to export the same quantities as we import. In terms of EU food trade, we are generating a huge amount of food miles for no particular food gain in the nutritional intake of any part of our constituencies or country. What sort of market rules generate markets in food that are grossly polluting?
I was amused and slightly embarrassed at the reference of my hon. Friend the Member for Sherwood (Paddy Tipping) to the time when he and I were involved in setting up an urban farm in the centre of Nottingham—embarrassed because it was a reference to something that happened a quarter of a century ago. It reminded me that 30 years ago I was involved with other people in setting up a food co-operative in the centre of Nottingham that operated from my garage.
It was a very interesting and exciting time, connecting the interests of the urban poor to those of rural food producers. However, we cannot turn the clock back to provide a template for where we are or where we ought to go. It was for that reason that over the summer I spent part of my time making contact with some of those who are involved in the processes of claiming a place for local food cultures. I made contact with some of those who have been involved in the slow towns and slow cities movement in Italy. I had a fascinating time with the mayor of Greve, which was one of the pioneer authorities, and looked at the nature of the slow cities movement. It was not necessarily about transport movement but about the connection between food consumers and food producers. We talked to fresh food retailers and people who prepared food. People in restaurants told us about the wide choice of wines, and the vineyards that they came from. They told us about the farms and the nature of the produce. They talked
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about their local cheeses and how they were made, and even offered to tell us the names of the farmers or take us to visit them. There was intense pride in the localisation of a system of food production and consumption that was not an anachronism in today's world of huge global connections.
People saw that system as an essential underpinning of a sensible and sustainable way of life. Food accountability was central to their food agenda. I realised that we have had a distorted food agenda—distorted largely by the history of MAFF, which has told me on occasions that we do not have a local food culture, because we need to go for trade liberalisation and abandon the idea of clear labelling. In the global food trading system, we have undermined the integrity of local food systems.
I ask the House to align itself with the food revolutionaries, the veritable Khmer Rouge of the food industry: the Women's Institute. The institute runs regular markets where people will be able to say where the food comes from and what has gone into it, be it marmalade or pies—perhaps giving the name of the farmer as well—and will probably be able to provide a phone number that people can ring to ask about the nature of the livestock-rearing or fruit or vegetable-growing processes. The WI understands the importance of food accountability, and the House would do well to follow its example.
Mr. Huw Edwards (Monmouth): I am sure that my hon. Friend would be delighted to come to the Abergavenny food festival, where he would see that philosophy put into practice with great success.
We want that philosophy to become the norm, and that requires us to change the rules base for the markets as they currently operate. It is monumentally absurd that supermarkets should pay no business rates on their car parks. It would require only a small change in the regulations to allow local authorities to offer a different incentive and say to local food retailers that they can have a 70 per cent. discount on business rates for food reared and grown within 70 miles of their urban outlets. That would incentivise the strengthening and renewal of local food links.
The rest of Europe has a much greater diversity of local beers, because of a tax system that has always favoured the small and the local. The Chancellor has begun to go down that path with incentives to micro-brewers. In bars in France, all the pression beers come from regional specialists, supported by a tax and duty system that specifically favours the small, sustainable and local over the large, powerful and global. We, on the other hand, have market preferences that favour the rich and the powerful.
Mr. Michael Weir (Angus): The hon. Gentleman is right to a certain extent, but how are we to force supermarkets, with their huge economic power, to give producers a fair deal? To be fair, some supermarkets, at
Alan Simpson: That is a real challenge, to which there are several elements. One is to change the tax and subsidy system, removing the concessions to supermarkets that do not apply to local retailers. We should also think about changing the balance of power in the relationship between food producers and retailers. In France, farmers have a legal duty to act through co-operatives, and in Italy they are given tax incentives to do so. Governments can influence the rules base of the market. My point is that current presumptions are in favour of a rules base that gives greater freedoms to the rich and powerful who can determine today's terms of production, purchasing and distribution. None of that is based on principles of sustainability. That is where I would invite the Government to take some of our best initiatives and move them into a more coherent and sustainable strategy.
Now that we have set up the Food Standards Agency nationally, why do we not give similar powers to local authorities to set up local food commissions? In Italy, such bodies can get involved in the brokering of food contracts between urban consumers and the rural communities that produce the food. In the context of such arrangements, which other parts of Europe have as of right, we must consider the twin issues of labelling and liability.
Mr. Roger Williams: Some local authorities would like to use local food and products in their schools, but feel constricted by European regulations that insist on their putting the contracts out to open tender, without being able to specify where the food comes from.
Alan Simpson: Yes, that is part of the current rules base, and I think it is barking mad. We should challenge that, and invite our European counterparts to subscribe to a different common agenda on sustainability.
If consumers are to have choice, it must be informed choice. The current European proposals on clear labelling are enormously important in the context of genetically modified products or ingredients. The Government have got it completely wrong in presuming that only those who seek to produce GM-free food should be required to label. If someone else contaminated food that one attempted to produce in a GM-free way, who could the consumer sue? It could only be the person who made a claim that the food was GM free. The European proposals say that anyone who knows that a GM ingredient is to be used at any stage of the production process has a duty to indicate it clearly and label accordingly. It follows that, if we are to have labelling, it must be connected to the notion of liability. We have said on many occasions that we are committed to the principle that the polluter pays. That principle is right, but in respect of GM foods we must find some way of establishing—it need not take the form of the Genetically Modified Food and Producer Liability (No. 2) Bill, which I introduced last year—that a rules-based system in which the genetic polluter forces the organic farmer out of business is unacceptable. Such a system would be absurd.
The Secretary of State has referred to genetic modification as being an automatic part of evolution, but that is fundamentally wrong. To put it in non-scientific terms, the reason why, throughout history, the soya bean has never mated with the fish has nothing to do with the fact that they do not fancy each other, or that they have different tastes in music, or that they prefer to read different Sunday papers.
Alan Simpson: Indeed, but the difficulty is that nature has provided species barriers that do not allow the sharing of those interests. They might share a place on someone's plate, but they are not likely to share a part in the process of reproduction and evolution. We must assess enormously seriously the consequences of a science that breaks down such barriers. We would never allow a new drug to be tested on members of the public outside strict laboratory conditions, in the way that we are currently trialling GM crops in open environments. That is the critical issue at stake.
On energy and technologies, there is much for the Government to feel proud of. I urge Members to read the document that was published last year, entitled "Powering Future Vehicles", which deals with a strategy that is remarkably ambitious. This Government are the first internationally to set targets for new vehicles. One such is that, within 10 years, one in 10 of all new vehicles should have fuel emissions of less than 100 g of carbon dioxide per kilometre. Ours is also the first Government to set really tough emission standards for low carbon buses. Again, that is an extremely desirable process for us to embark on and invite the House to support. However, there is no point in doing that if what underpins the centralities of our transport system is huge investment in motorways and disinvestment in railways, and huge investment in private transport and huge under-investment in public transport. That should be the locus of the refocusing of our attention.
In getting there, it will not be enough for us to talk about other fuel sources. Several Members have been involved in trialling differently fuel-sourced vehicles around the country. Some 10 years ago, I talked to scientists who were involved in running a fleet of cars around Germany using hydrogen fuel cells. The obstacle to change is not the technology, but the question of where to fill up. We must intervene in the markets for fuel in much the same way as is happening in France. In France, there is an obligation on service stations to provide access to alternative fuels.
The Government are right to point out that there is a debate about which will be the predominant non-polluting fuels that we look to in 10 or 15 years' time. However, at this stage the question for the motorist who wishes to fill up more ethically is where to find the fuel choices. If we want people to try to occupy those ethical platforms, we have to make such choices available to them. It is not enough to exhort; we have to build that in as a condition of the franchises for service stations. Only then will people be able to exercise the sort of choices that the Government would like them to exercise.
Norman Baker: The hon. Gentleman will be aware that the American Government are wholly opposed to such a tax. Does he therefore agree that the Government should take steps to persuade our European Union partners to introduce one at EU level, at least as an initial step?
Alan Simpson: I agree with the hon. Gentleman. Indeed, I would urge the UK Government and our European partners to presume to levy such a tax on all American planes landing anywhere in Europe. The Americans cannot exempt themselves from the damaging consequence in terms of climate change that their assumptions about tax-free aviation fuel impose on the rest of the planet. I should welcome a tax.
I am very conscious that DEFRA has led the commitment to the eradication of fuel poverty in Britain. We could easily forget that that was an important milestone. Never has there been such a clear commitment by a Government in this country—a Labour Government—to the eradication of fuel poverty. DEFRA's current difficulty, however, is that the budget that it was allocated to address that problem is not sufficient to meet the targets and the needs. As a Parliament and as a Government, we must try to strengthen DEFRA's hand in obtaining a more sensible and adequate budget to meet our fuel poverty targets.
Last year, the Home Energy Conservation Bill, promoted by my hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Kemptown (Dr. Turner), was talked out because it was argued that DEFRA could not afford £100 million a year to meet its costs. However, we have to put that in the context of the global figure to which we have just signed up in order to bail out a completely bankrupt nuclear industry. I understand that the total figure will be not the £650 million that was being talked about initially, but £13 billion. The Government propose to underwrite a bankrupt industry with £13 billion of taxpayers' contributions, yet we were told that we could not afford £100 million to pay for the elimination of fuel poverty.
A fraction of the money that will be thrown at the bankrupt nuclear industry could have allowed us to end fuel poverty in Britain, to cut carbon emissions dramatically and to set about a huge transition towards investment in renewables. It would have allowed us to occupy the international moral high ground, as the Government rightly want to do.
On my next point, I am in disagreement not only with the Government but with the House. On behalf of the unreconstructed, I want to make a plea that we should mount a challenge on something that currently mesmerises the House: the belief that global free trade—trade liberalisation—is a panacea for the world's problems. I think that idea is garbage. This morning, the Chancellor was singing the praises of free trade and telling us that it could eradicate global poverty. There is no analysis to support those claims for our planet.
The figures for the second 25 years are grotesque. In Latin and South America, real-terms per capita incomes have grown by only 6 per cent. and in Africa they have fallen by 23 per cent. As was pointed out earlier, countries that are primary producers of goods such as coffee and tea face collapsing world prices for those commodities, and when the World Bank steps in with further trade liberalisation programmes it is on condition that those countries hand over ownership of all their primary resources in a fire sale. Those primary resources even include their own water. There is no point in our talking about sustainable access to decent water supplies, food or production processes when the rules of the game asset-strip the poor in the south in a way that we have never seen before. We shall not recover from that in terms of either climate change or global poverty.
In the representations that our Government make to those global summit meetings, we have to occupy a platform on which we assert the right of the poor to be judged not on the basis of how they feed the rich, but on whether they can feed themselves. Sustainability must begin with recognition of the capacity that exists in those continents and the sub-continent.
Just last week, environmental experts from Ethiopia and India spoke to us. Although there is a tragic famine in Ethiopia, they told us that they do not have a food crisis, in the sense that there is a huge surplus of cassava in the north and a famine in the south. They have no shortage of cash crops; they just have a shortage of cash. The international community will not allow their Government to step in to buy the cassava surpluses in the north to give to the farmers in the south without destroying the country's agricultural base.
India has stepped in to try to answer Zambia's plea to receive non-genetically modified grain as part of the famine relief programme. The World Food Programme says, "No, it is an unreasonable request." Why? Because the WFP primarily has huge surpluses of GM grain from the United States. India has been saying, "Look. We have had our largest ever grain surplus—55 million tonnes—take it from us. It is GM free." The WFP has stepped in under the auspices of the US and said that is an unreasonable request from those in one of the poorest countries on the planet.
India has record grain surpluses and its Government are telling farmers to produce less, more sustainably. Even India is asking, "Why on earth are you forcing us to open our grain markets so that America can offload its grain surpluses and destroy our domestic capacity for farmers to produce grain at a price on which they can survive."
Let me put a challenge to the Government: we have ambitious targets and we have much that we can feel proud of in setting out our stall and in our current direction, but we now have to pull the best elements of
That model of sustainable development cannot be realised unless we are prepared to challenge today's market rules, which favour the large and powerful over the small and local, and those who exploit and pollute rather than those who sustain and renew. If we can find the courage to meet that challenge, we will be thanked not only by generations of our own electors, but by communities across the planet.
On Monday 23 December, I invite all colleagues who happen to be in the St. Anne's area of my constituency to join me at the pre-Christmas farmers' market, where they will see Fylde farmers trying to keep farming and to do their bit by marketing directly and thus to respond to the public's growing interest in where their food comes from and to answer some of the questions about traceability. Two weeks before that, the farmers' market in the village of Great Ecclestone in the north-west of my constituency will have effectively done the same thing.
The enthusiasm shown in those markets is electric and exciting. They put some of the passion and interest back into countryside matters, but the sad feature of today's modern, large-scale agriculture business, the marketplace for which is dominated by supermarkets and where 40 per cent. of the country's food spend is made outside the home, is that farmers' markets alone are not enough to help to rebuild and sustain our farming industry.
I was surprised that the Secretary of State made no mention of the fact that farmers' incomes—£1.5 billion in 2000—are at their lowest level in real terms since the 1930s. In the last six years, 67,000 people have left farming in the United Kingdom. Much as I admire the commitment of the Under-Secretary to countryside matters and to matters such as flooding, water and fishing, and the passionate involvement of the Minister for the Environment, there was not much passion from the Secretary of State to provide the vital ingredient that the farming industry craves—leadership. Often, farmers look to the centre to say which way they should go. Ultimately, it is their decision—they are business people and must make investments in their farms—but given that, in post-war Britain, politicians have interfered at a national and European level to form much of British agriculture, to set the marketplace and to set the price structure, it is hardly surprising that farmers look to the Government of the day for leadership, guidance and, above all, commitment to their industry. What we heard from the Secretary of State was a tour d'horizon of umpteen things in which her Department was interested and a great deal of management speak, but not much in the way of passion and commitment to farming.
Paul Flynn (Newport, West): The Conservatives made a great fuss, along with Farmers Weekly and a number of other newspapers, demanding a full public inquiry. Had they got their way, that inquiry would be only about halfway through its work. Through the swift action of the Government, however, we have three independent reports of great quality.
Mr. Jack: It is remarkable that on an issue of particular concern to Labour Members, such as Bloody Sunday, the Government were happy to initiate a serious public inquiry. For those in the countryside of the United Kingdom, having the opportunity to speak in public on these matters was their priority. I urge the hon. Gentleman not to be selective. Given that rural communities have been torn to shreds as a result of this devastating outbreak, which was largely down to the failure of the Government to have a proper strategy in place, it would be a good part of the healing process to let them have their say. Looking at the inquiries that have been conducted by local authorities, one can see the benefit of letting the people speak on such an occasion.
The other factor that has affected farming, which has not so far been mentioned in the debate, is the relative strength of sterling against the euro. One cannot ignore that in determining many of the positions that farming and agriculture must now take to deal with the realities of a difficult trading position, which has opened up competition from Europe in a way that has not been seen before. It is not just a question of being better at doing something but of having an automatic price advantage to help. Many of the problems of our industry would disappear if we had parity of currency values.
Mr. Jack: As a humble Back Bencher, I cannot speak for my colleagues on the Opposition Front Bench, but they may wish to respond to the hon. Gentleman's question. I was surprised, however, that the Government took so long to make payments in euros to UK farmers, because I thought that that had been agreed some years ago.
The hon. Gentleman has put his finger on one of the features of the response to the commission on food and farming. There is an incredible sense of lethargy—a sort of maqana attitude. Things do not happen today; they will happen in a few years' time. For example, the code of supermarket practice is all about reviews. It is not about ensuring that all the supermarkets sign up to it or about ensuring that the code is given some bite. The approach is, "Let's look at it in a few years' time, folks"—if there is anything still left to look at.
Let us consider the motion against the background of the huge decline in income and employment in agriculture. To table a motion of such unbiased self-congratulation that does not accord with anything in the real world is unbelievable. The motion and the Secretary of State's remarks gave no indication of what the Government think are the strengths and weaknesses of agriculture. The motion gives no encouragement to the better parts of the industry and no commentary on the overall strength of the United Kingdom in, for example, the milk and dairy sector in which we have a tremendous advantage over other parts of Europe. It does not talk about how the Government should be in Europe developing a strategy to enable the best bits of UK farming to survive. It did not even say that they want a vibrant farming industry in this country to survive. It is the lack of passion, commitment and analysis that worries me.
The Select Committee has exposed the utter failure of environmental policy to deal with the fridge mountain, the confusion caused over matters connected to the disposal of dangerous goods and the maqana attitude towards public consultation on the ultimate disposal of nuclear waste. However, I find no mention whatever of those issues in the Government motion. I wonder what planet they are living on when it comes to their agricultural and environmental responsibilities. There is no mention—in any seriousness—of genetic modification and what the Government plan to do. I could go on, but the fact that they have tabled such a motion demonstrates their lack of a sense of reality and their discourtesy to the House. Each item in the motion should have merited much longer debate on its own. To try to jam the entire Department's responsibilities in one onomatopoeic—I think that is the correct word—motion goes too far.
I welcomed the commitment in the Secretary of State's remarks to sustainability and the acknowledgement that farming must be profitable. Many of the things that we want for farming depend on its profitability. I mention that point in the context of sustaining our rural economies. Without profitable agriculture, we cannot have many of the rural community facilities that we want.
"Whether it likes it or not DEFRA is more than just an interlocutor for agricultural and a wide range of other, related, industries: it is a funder, regulator, negotiator and mediator. It is important, therefore, that DEFRA makes clear the central role played by agriculture in delivering a host of its objectives, and in particular those relating to rural communities, the countryside and sustainable development".That puts agriculture right at the heart of the rural economy and no one should ever forget that. Agriculture is not a manufacturing activity; it is about communities. It is about centuries of devotion to the
The Secretary of State's speech referred to the announcement of £500 million to help implement the Curry commission. However, the detail is fascinating. There is £500 million over three years, and most of it has already been announced. It comes to £133 million a year for programmes that are part of the English rural development package. If one looks across the range of the programmes, one realises that there is limited money for many of the things that the Government say they are going to do to sustain the rural economy. It would have been helpful for the Secretary of State to comment on the workings of the English rural development plan.
There was no mention in the Secretary of State's speech about the state of CAP reform. Like the mid-term review, it did not exist. In the foreword to one of the plethora of documents issued today, the Prime Minister says:
"But things are not right. European taxpayers pay around £30 billion a year for the CAP, yet our farm incomes are close to rock bottom."Schrvder and Chirac ensured that he was sidelined on the mid-term review. When Lord Whitty, the Minister from the other place, appeared before the Select Committee two days ago, I quizzed him on what exactly is on the table for the mid-term review. Perhaps the Under-Secretary can confirm what is still alive. Is dynamic modulation on the table? What is going to happen to the other elements of the separation of payments from production? What is the timetable? What has happened to the mid-term review because if the CAP is to be reformed, that is when it will be decided?
What is interesting is that there is no mention of the non-subsidised sector of agriculture—pigs, poultry and, above all, horticulture. A member of the food and farming commission, Mr. Mark Tinsley, explained that the horticulture industry is responsible for 20 per cent. of agricultural output and 25 per cent. of the food chain, and that it is largely unsubsidised,
"But it is treated from DEFRA down as if it is an irrelevance."So a large part of the agricultural sector, which accounts for a large part of our output, is seen as irrelevant. Most importantly, it is not subsidised. If there is a vision for the future of farming and the Government's role in it, the horticulture industry is it. Yet a leading player on the commission says that DEFRA thinks that it is irrelevant.
Mr. Hayes : I met Mr. Tinsley, who is one of my constituents. My right hon. Friend is right about his concerns. He may be interested to know that Mr. Tinsley told me that he particularly regretted the lack of vision for horticulture, the lack of a willingness to invest in its future in terms of research and development, and the lack of Government support, by which he did not mean payments but some sense of direction.
Mr. Jack: I am grateful for that information and will build on my hon. Friend's comments. The Government have not formulated a proper strategy on how they will help the research side of horticulture. Horticulture
Research International awaits the Government's response to the quinquennial review. The Select Committee produced two reports highlighting the management and business failings of HRI, but instead of telling us what they were going to do, the Government sat back, twiddled their thumbs and waited for the quinquennial review. We still do not know what will happen to the only place in the United Kingdom where the Government can help the unsubsidised sector of horticulture. It is lamentable and shows a complete abrogation of responsibility. If the Government want successful food and farming in an unsubsidised world, it is vital for them to attend to matters connected with research and development.
Mr. Tinsley is making zero or negative returns on his capital, and people are working harder just to stand still. The directors of his company have even taken a pay cut. Yet the Government have seen fit not to make a clear statement about the research needs of the horticulture industry. That part of the farming sector was one of the first to embrace an assurance scheme and to deal with the costs of that. When one talks to Mr. Tinsley about some of the problems that he faces, it becomes clear that there is still an imbalance in the power between the buyer and the seller, and that goes to the heart of the matter.
"The Government believes that the code of practice can set a standard for the industry as a whole. We endorse the Commission's call and are actively encouraging retailers".
What are the Government doing about the mismatch between the pious words of supermarket chairmen who tell farming conferences that they are backing the United Kingdom and looking after the farming industry and the actions of their buyers on Wednesdays and Thursdays when prices are agreed? How are they going to make certain that, through their buying policies, supermarkets do more than pay lip service to the needs of British food and farming? There is a great deal that supermarkets can do to help—respecting seasonality, for example. When we have the produce, we should buy from the UK, not simply take advantage of cheap offers from the continent.
To conclude, I shall say a few words about north-west England. The comments of representatives of the National Farmers Union on the state of the milk industry apply to rest of the country as well. There is an acceptance of the need to co-operate and of the need for value added. However, I remind the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the hon. Member for Scunthorpe (Mr. Morley) of the need to look again at competition policy and our milk industry. The Government must make certain that they give it every encouragement so that it is strengthened in Europe—we are competing against powerful players with a dominant position in the domestic market. However, the competition is not just European but worldwide, and our dairy sector is currently battling for survival with one arm tied behind its back.
Farmers in the north-west are worried about bovine TB, about which the Minister is deeply knowledgeable—I understand that he recently met Cheshire farmers to discuss it. If it is Cheshire today, it will be Lancashire tomorrow, and there is a real fear that little is happening to check the spread of that
debilitating disease. We are still awaiting trials but, in farmers' minds, practical action is needed to stem the spread of the disease.
DEFRA is a big Department and, at times, seems to be struggling both to recognise its priorities and to deliver. I urge it to show leadership, passion and commitment to our food and farming industry, and note the points made in our debate.
Mr. Alan Hurst (Braintree): When I was a novice political candidate for a partly rural division, I thought that it would be useful to gain some knowledge of the common agricultural policy, parts of which are impenetrable, particularly the language. I went to my first farm meeting armed with a passing knowledge, so I thought, of modulation, and I survived. I had no idea of the language that I would have to learn afterwards—we started talking about cross-compliance, various coloured boxes, first and second pillars, coupling, uncoupling and decoupling. It is not surprising that the wider public find it difficult to enter fully into the debate about the CAP and the future of farming.
There is now a tendency to argue that we should not have price support subsidies. There may be a case for that, but it is worth reflecting how we reached the current position. Members who have met people who farmed in the 1930s will know of the terrible agricultural depression at the time. We are now in a recession, but that long-term depression lasted the best part of two decades. The price of land was so low that in practice it was almost given away in many areas, and was certainly rented at a low price so that it could be kept in cultivation or under stock. Many people from Scotland came to East Anglia and farmed the land because it was available at such a low rate. That was the sort of depression that existed before the war.
With the coming of the war, we realised how crucial our farming industry would be to us because we could not import foodstuffs from the rest of the world, as we had done. Following those two experiences, the Attlee Government after the second world war, under that great Minister of Agriculture, Tom Williams, began to introduce extensive price support and protection for British farming, which was the foundation of British agricultural prosperity until we joined what was then called the Common Market. The national policy of protection and support was taken over by the common agricultural policy.
It is not for me to give a simplified version of history, but it is sometimes worth recalling how we have come to be where we are, and the problems that have occurred since we have had the common agricultural policy, rather than our own policy. The CAP involves the expenditure of 44 billion euros. I am not immediately able to translate that, as the exchange rate changes regularly, but an awful lot of money is being spent on the support of agriculture across Europe, yet there is a feeling among farmers, the public, consumers and environmentalists that, notwithstanding all that money, nobody is getting a very good deal.
Member for Fylde (Mr. Jack) mentioned the strength of the pound. A former Member of the House would have used the vulgar phrase "a double whammy" to describe the double detrimental effect on farming. It reduces the value of a farmer's subsidy, support or payment, and it increases the competitiveness of imports from abroad. The farmer loses in both respects.
The Government may at some stage make a decision about whether we should join the euro, but it is not a matter that can be dealt with in isolation from a range of other matters. It is not an issue peculiar to agriculture. We cannot make a decision to join the euro based solely on agriculture. That decision must be taken in a wider context, but while the euro is so weak and the pound is so strong, British farming will continue to suffer.
Our climate is not the most perfect in the world. Manchester has been mentioned. Manchester may have a perfect climate for some things, but not necessarily for agriculture. There are other countries that will always be able to grow farm produce more easily than we can because of their climate. The other thing that we do not have is land. A cursory look at the map of Europe reveals how much bigger France and Germany are, let alone the Ukraine or parts of eastern Europe. Such countries have land in abundance and the possibility of farming on a scale that is difficult to contemplate even for East Anglia. They therefore have the great advantage of economies of scale. The further east and the further south one looks, the more likely it is that in addition to cheap land, there is cheap labour. That wonderful combination enables such countries to compete on easy terms with the situation that pertains in the UK.
Foot and mouth has been discussed, so I shall not deal with that, or with BSE, classical swine fever or the other scourges that have afflicted parts, or in some cases all, of British agriculture over the past few years. All those matters have a damaging effect on our ability to compete in a free market. Beyond that, we insist on extremely high standards of animal welfare, pollution control and environmental protection. I shall not elaborate on the argument about gold-plating—I have never been certain what that meant. However, it costs British producers money if they are obliged—rightly so—to observe higher standards of animal welfare, environmental protection and pollution control. The suspicion is that not all other countries follow the same route. A major turkey farmer in my constituency is Mr. William Grove Smith of Shalford, who produces very fine turkeys. He believes that turkeys are coming here from Italy in particular and being sold for less than the cost price in this country. I do not want even to contemplate the sort of conditions in which turkeys, pigs and other products are being produced in Brazil and brought to this country. What possible check any supermarket could have on the welfare standards or effects of pollution in such countries is beyond any reasonable calculation. We are therefore at a great disadvantage.
I come now to a word that I learned a number of years ago—modulation. In essence, in the context of this discussion, that means talking about whether to shift support to environmental and conservation schemes that will benefit the fabric of the countryside and take some money away from the price support system that has appertained hitherto. I do not think that anybody
can object in principle to our taking that route. We all want an improved countryside and more vital wildlife, and we are mindful of some of the things that took place in the past, such as the destruction of hedges, filling in of ponds, enlargement of fields and all the other factors that radically changed the appearance of the countryside and did great harm to the preservation of our wildlife in certain parts of the country.
All of us should support moves to ensure that farmers are paid for preserving the countryside, as the exercise is not cost free. If one wants to plant a hedge, coppice a wood or plant trees, one must employ a labourer to do the work. Farming in an environmentally sensitive way clearly requires much more skill in mowing, harvesting and any other activities to ensure that no damage is done to the very environmental treasures that we are seeking to protect. Therefore, any environmental scheme will be much more expensive in practice than farming in the normal way.
I do not want us to move in that direction if the consequence will be yet another cut in farming incomes. If we are serious about doing so—we should think about it long and hard, although I think that we probably should—we must ensure that there are sufficient funds. First, they must pay the farmer for the work that he has to do, bearing in mind that so few people now work on the land. The right hon. Member for Fylde suggested that that was the Government's fault, but the number of people working on the land has declined at a colossal rate since 1945 for a range of reasons outside the present situation. In winter time, workmen on farms would do ditching and all sorts of preservation work on the land, but those people are not employed any more. If we want environmental schemes, we must therefore bear in mind that it will cost us money to ensure that farmers can carry them out, whether profitably or even at a cost.
The money that is provided for an environmental scheme must also go directly to the people who are carrying it out. There is a fear that too much money may be frittered away on the side in paying for the administration of such schemes or projects. We want to see the benefits of the money in our countryside as it is spent. We do not necessarily want to hear that 40, 50 or 60 per cent. of a programme's budget has been spent on its administration.
My penultimate point is that we need to remember that farming will remain the core business on the land. I do not think that anybody is suggesting that we are seeking to end farming and introduce a national parks service. Farming will remain the core of the agricultural business, and we must keep it supported by environmental schemes that are properly paid for and that the farmers can administer. We must always remember that farming, if it is to survive, must be profitable. If necessary, support schemes must be in place to make that possible in the long term.
My hon. Friend the Member for Luton, North (Mr. Hopkins), who is in his place, has talked about the effects of the common agricultural policy, and whether ultimately it is possible, as things stand, for there to be radical and far-reaching reform. There is a case—it is one that the Government should argue—for bringing farming policy back home so that member states of the Union can implement their own policy outside the common agricultural policy. In that way, each member state could react to the changing circumstances of
farming and the food situation much more rapidly, and to change and adapt as appropriate. In other words, we would return to the schemes that we had but with the environmental overlay that had pride of place in the post-war Labour Government.
Mr. David Curry (Skipton and Ripon): There is a part of the Gilbert and Sullivan opera "Iolanthe" that refers to the ability of parliamentarians to move almost anything. There is reference also to a parliamentary pantechnicon. The motion is the closest thing to a parliamentary pantechnicon that I have come across during my time in the House. It literally includes everything—and the kitchen sink. I suggest, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that even with your ingenuity you would find it almost impossible to rule anyone out of order if he or she were discussing almost any subject. However, I do not wish to challenge you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, on this matter. In effect, we have before us a motion of confidence in DEFRA. That makes it plain why we will vote against the motion.
We talk about farm incomes, but we never distinguish between various categories of farms. In broad terms, there is a large set of farms that are mainly in the hands of part-time lifestyle farmers. They make only a small contribution to production. These people farm not intending to make a profit, or not minding if they do not make one. That is an increasing tendency. I see no reason why policies should be devised round the economic needs of people in that category.
The second category is that of small full-time farmers who find life difficult. It was interesting this morning when Lord Whitty was challenged by John Humphrys on "Today". He talked about livestock farmers going out of business. At present, arable farmers are going out of business. Livestock farmers who were caught by foot and mouth have, to a significant extent, stuck in there. That is partly because the habit of survival is perhaps the most deeply ingrained.
Thirdly there is the large-scale commercial farm. There are a few such farms that produce overwhelmingly the largest amount of foodstuff. There is a choice to be made when it comes to the sort of farm for which we have policy in mind. It does not get anybody anywhere to talk about farm incomes as a broad average, no matter whether the figures are good or bad. A little more differentiation would help our analysis.
I shall focus on the heart of emerging Government policy. That is the same theme as the hon. Member for Sherwood (Paddy Tipping) chose in his introductory remarks. There is the move from production subsidy to subsidy for public goods and the environment. We are talking about two sorts of subsidy. We give the impression that public goods are a good thing, and then we slide across, as it were, and say, for example, "support for", or use a euphemism. We are still, however, talking about subsidy; we are simply redirecting subsidies. To start with, we might just as well get the terminology correct. The mechanism is the modulation which gave the hon. Member for Braintree (Mr. Hurst) so much analytical difficulty in his early days when meeting farmers.
Indeed, it means something different from its first manifestation. It originally meant trying to hit large farms in northern European to benefit smaller farms on the continent. "Subsidy" has therefore had a new lease of life. I personally regret that jargon.
We are moving towards entry level schemes. They are intended to be undemanding. The Minister emphasised that they are not high access schemes or difficult to get into. They are the starting point; that is why they are called broad and shallow. They are going to be trialled for two years. All that one discovers in a two-year trial is whether the Government can administer the scheme. We will learn nothing about the environmental benefits of the schemes in two years. We should not fool ourselves. We will find out a little about their acceptability to farmers and the Government's capability of administering them, but they are only for a trial area and we therefore may not learn much.
There is however a legitimate question about the value for money of the broad and shallow entry level scheme. What will it mean to the farmer? Will it make a significant difference to his income? Will it have any incremental benefit to the taxpayer as the consumer of that sort of product? If the access point level is so low, what will we get for our money?
I assume that the purpose is to tee up the farmers for other schemes. I therefore welcome the fact that the Government state for the first time in the document that is released today that the roll-out of the schemes will depend on the trials. On every previous occasion, the Government said that roll-out would follow the trials. However, for the first time, they state that that will happen provided that the trials work. I do not know whether that signals a genuine change or whether language has simply slid from one expression to another. However, I welcome it as an improvement.
If we follow this path, we must find a method of getting value for money. We do that by creating a market in environmental goods. I want the scheme to be run as a marketplace. I do not want it to be based on income forgone. There are insufficient incentives for farmers in that. If the schemes are to be sensitive to local and regional needs, the only way to proceed is not through a great national agenda, but through farmers making a contract with the Government to buy into specific programmes, for which they perhaps volunteer. The Dutch can manage that and it should not be beyond English wit to do the same.
We should use the accompanying enhanced schemes, such as stewardship, which is currently under review, to support the main policy developments. The Government speak a great deal about joined-up policies. We have a chance to try to use the initiatives as an element to join up the programmes. I have two specific points in mind.
First, let us consider the requirements of the water framework directive, which the Select Committee is currently considering. It has enormous implications for farmers in the control of diffuse pollution—that is, run-offs from agricultural land. Few farmers have the remotest idea of the sort of requirements that may be placed on them. The Select Committee got the impression that people who live in urban areas have
even less idea about it. It makes more sense in getting value for money and minimising the ultimate costs to prevent the incidence of on-farm pollution than to clean it up at the point of discharge. That means that £10 spent upstream may save several thousand pounds downstream. That money ends up as a charge on the water user. Therefore the public who put in an investment of £10 upstream may well save several thousand pounds in tax or water bills downstream.
Secondly, I should like the money to be used to promote integrated crop management. That is a conservation grade of agriculture, not an organic production or even an alternative, but a method of trying to minimise the use of pesticides and fertilisers. It is a form of farming that tries to maximise the benefit to the environment and, for example, to bird species. The evidence appears to be that it enables natural habitat to be re-established much more quickly than people imagine. This is a whole-farm concept, and it would be a useful way of trying to bend a particular programme towards a broader objective, thus obtaining a multiplier effect in terms of value for money.
We must also ensure that the schemes do not proliferate. There is always a tendency for this to happen, because people say, "Hang on, we must make this one sensitive to particular circumstances"—which I endorse—but then the schemes tend to multiply and confusion arises in the minds of the farmers or other takers of the schemes as to which one they should choose and whether it is going to be bureaucratically complex. The administrative costs then mount up in the Department. I know from my own experience—and I do not imagine that things have changed much over the years—that the sheer administrative cost of running some of these schemes bulks very large indeed in the Department's budget. I also know that the Department is going through a fairly agonising process of trying to match its resources to its public service agreement targets at the moment—a fact to which I am sure the Minister is very much alive. There is some scope for rationalisation of the schemes. We have talked about whether the organic scheme might be brought within the framework of stewardship, and I still think that there is something to be said for doing that.
A final factor in the question of joined-up government is whether the schemes will qualify for the green box in the ultimate negotiations in the World Trade Organisation. After all, if we are shifting subsidy from production-related to non-production-related—the strict economist would say that there is no such thing as a non-production-related subsidy, but, for the sake of the negotiations, one can make a distinction—it is important that the present schemes that are in the so-called blue box, which is production-related, should be replaced by schemes capable of conforming with the rules of the World Trade Organisation. It is important that we bear that in mind when framing them.
That takes us straight to the schemes coming from the European Union, and to the mid-term review, because modulation is part of all that. There is now a serious question mark over whether dynamic modulation—which simply involves taking more money off farmers to put into environmental schemes: a progressive tax—is to go ahead. The impression that we got when we were in Brussels was that Brussels was pretty well reconciled to that item on the agenda slipping, at least in the present
negotiations. Some Ministers have also told us that they have the same impression—indeed, that they rather hope for that outcome.
This is important for the United Kingdom for several reasons. First, we are depending on that mechanism in Brussels, as Lord Whitty told us, to fund for ourselves some of the enhanced programmes that are going to move us more towards the support of public good benefits in agriculture. Secondly, the Government will need to look at how our own programmes for shifting from production to environmental support—our own domestic modulation—will sit with the European model, and, in particular, at the redistributive effects that they will have in the United Kingdom. There will be such effects between one farm or area and another. We must also consider the implications for British farmers if we alone are taxing their production aids, or if we are doing so at a much higher rate than is being done elsewhere.
Sir Don Curry put forward the argument, in his report, that we should go to 10 per cent. modulation in the absence of a major CAP reform—which always seemed to me like whistling in the wind—and then, perhaps, even to 20 per cent. I note a very guarded tone in the Government's response to that argument, as though they had not really committed themselves to going that far. There may be a case for doing so, but not until they have done the analysis, to which I referred, of the impact of such a measure, both internally and in terms of our competitive position.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Fylde (Mr. Jack) and other hon. Members have mentioned the retail industry. Here, again, I notice a coyness in the Government's response. I am usually glad when the Government are coy about things. I have a certain inbuilt coyness when it comes to interfering with the marketplace. I want to say to the Minister that I see no reason why we should not see a consolidation of the retail sector. There is more competition in Britain than in many other densely populated markets—Holland, for example, has only two such retailers. The regional importance of retailing in Britain is perhaps slightly different from the national picture.
It is fairly obvious that Safeway has a "For Sale" sign over it at the moment. It is believed that Sainsbury's would have been for sale to Asda had the right offer come along. There is speculation that Sainsbury's and Safeway may have to put something together to hold off the relentless advance of Asda, which is breathing down Sainsbury's neck. Tesco keeps telling everyone that it would be intolerable to have any further merger, but of course that would create a much bigger competitor to Tesco. I see no reason why there will not be further consolidation of the retail sector. I am not sure whether there are any serious competition grounds to prevent that. If it were to happen, there would be even more cut-throat competition, and the playback, as it were, for the production of farmers would be even more acute.
The Government must take a pretty hard look at the implications. The consumer gets good benefit from competition among retailers. I find it difficult to choose which pre-packed, pre-washed, mixed special salad to buy at my local Tesco. It is rather like getting a free vote: it tends to confuse me. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Fylde said, the farming industry believes that it faces a monolith in terms of purchasing power.
There are ways into that market, but they must be explored and sustained. With the current level of the pound, the incentive is to purchase overseas.
I wish to press the Minister on another point. The Curry report referred to a policy on nutrition. The Government are guarded about that. I have attended conferences at which people have talked about the need for a dramatically interventionist Government policy to tackle problems such as obesity. It is argued that there should be different codes for different foods according to salt or sugar content, this, that and the other. I would be interested to know whether the coyness of the Government's response shows a reluctance to go down that path—I hope that it does—or whether lurking behind that phrase about nutrition is the intention to take a much more interventionist stand.
Several hon. Members have mentioned the World Trade Organisation. The WTO at the top end and the consumer at the other are the great drivers for change in agriculture. The Government talked about enlargement as one of the levers for change. That was never very plausible, as it was clear that we would never have tried to stand in the way of enlargement to get change in agriculture, because we would were too strongly in favour of enlargement for broad, macro-political and geo-political reasons. The WTO is an imposer of change.
On reflection, I do not necessarily subscribe to the view that the budget deal is permissive, as I think that world circumstances could turn it into a tough deal. We must get support for the new member states. Sugar and milk regime reform may come out of the budget proposals. The Schrvder-Chirac deal could turn out to be tougher than people think. A short perusal of the commentary in the French press disabuses us of any idea that President Chirac has won vast plaudits from his own agricultural community for this deal. It says that this is the death of farming as we know it, and it cites the number of farmers, farm workers and farm holders who are going out of business. Exactly the same cycle as we have had in the United Kingdom is reproduced elsewhere.
It is legitimate to ask what is left of the mid-term review. If the dynamic modulation is gone, the main thing left is decoupling. It is important to press ahead with decoupling, although not necessarily with the agenda as it stands. It is an important complement to our national policy. If we are to be joined up, we must join up national policy with the broader European policy and—dare I say it?—we must be joined up across the internal frontiers of the United Kingdom. There is an increasing dislocation of policy across the national responsibilities within the UK.
The thing about the CAP is that change is never as dramatic as its critics demand, but it is probably more constant than they realise. It grinds along undramatically, and the CAP as it is today is massively different from the CAP as it was even 10 years ago.
The review by Lord Haskins is enormously wide-ranging. Its terms of reference are encyclopaedic. It excludes the Rural Payments Agency, which is a pity, since some fairly drastic attention needs to be paid to it. It also covers regional development agencies, local authorities, English Nature and the Countryside Agency—it is particularly unhappy for any organisation
to have the word "agency" stuck to it. It will extend well beyond the scope of Government. I suspect that it is a bit over-ambitious. I am not sure whether Lord Haskins realises what he is taking on. How many days a week will he devote to the task? How big is his secretariat? Is he alone, or are others helping him? How long has he to complete the job? The review, after all, goes to the heart of some of DEFRA's rural responsibilities, and spills out beyond that.
Let me suggest one or two lines of inquiry. There is undoubtedly confusion about the providers in the business of what might broadly be called rural regeneration and economic developments. There is also confusion about the differentiation of schemes, along with a lack of definition in regard to the core tasks of bodies such as the Countryside Agency, the RDAs and the training and skills councils. If Lord Haskins could introduce more rationality, and more clarity and differentiation in terms of function, he would not just do a service to the consumer but do an administrative service to the Dept. A simpler architecture for purpose and decision-making would be welcome.
If there is one thing that would help my rural areas it is broadband, which I think was mentioned by the hon. Member for Sherwood, but such high technology is not available to rural areas. People running companies tell me that they would be willing to locate in places such as Settle, which was at the heart of the foot and mouth outbreak—it would be a wonderful place for a cottage industry with three or four employees—but, because they cannot obtain the necessary technology there, they operate in Surrey, where they can. Technology is almost more important than anything else. It is not even possible to use a mobile telephone in large parts of the Yorkshire dales. If we are to have 3G—I must say that I am even more coy about that than about everything else I have mentioned today—it would be helpful to have mobile phone contact in the dales, although I will not intervene in planning decisions there.
I agree with what my right hon. Friend the Member for Fylde said about Horticulture Research International. We need decisions. The first stage of the review has ended; there are customers and people who might be involved in the reorganisation, and there are employees who need to know their fate. The sooner those decisions can be made, the better.
DEFRA contains some outstanding people. So, as a matter of fact, did MAFF: let someone fly the flag for MAFF for once. DEFRA administers some extraordinarily complex schemes, especially those related to the environment, which have major implications for businesses. The operation of the packaging directive, for instance, is a market-based scheme. The Department must make forecasts and specify targets for companies, and trading is involved. Such activity requires considerable statistical and economic skills, and the Select Committee genuinely doubts whether the Department can exercise the strength and depth that are needed. An analysis and some retraining are probably required.
There is a lot of sense in the Curry proposals. They make some extraordinarily heroic assumptions about CAP reform, and there is the occasional slightly dotty recommendation from, no doubt, a member of the panel
with a bee in his bonnet. There are also some curious omissions from the monitoring body that will be chaired by Sir Don. I think I am right in saying that the Environment Agency is not represented, although it will play a central role in managing the environmental activities of farmers. It is to be the nominated body, as I think the term is, dealing with the water framework directive.
The Government's response to the report seems, on the whole, sensible and balanced, but I ask them to keep checking on value for money. My great fear is that if we move away from production subsidies, which have proved very difficult to dislodge, we will create a parallel structure of green subsidies—which are probably even more fiercely defended, because the environmental lobbies have a great deal more money than the agricultural lobbies or the political parties—and become frozen in a kind of immobility. I would like to see them flexible, digressive and, above all, based on a market. If we are talking about the farmer responding to the market, why should we define the market purely in terms of his productivity capacity and not in terms of other goods that he is seeking to make available to the public?
Paul Flynn (Newport, West): Much of the tone of this very interesting debate has been based on an acceptance of what has happened in the farming industry since the war. My hon. Friend the Member for Braintree (Mr. Hurst) described how subsidies were originally provided for farmers. It seems unreasonable in the 21st century still to be running the farming industry on the basis of trying to secure victory in the second world war.
We need revolutionary rather than evolutionary change. The right hon. Member for Fylde (Mr. Jack) gave us the traditional image of farming as a dependent industry that seeks more and more subsidies. He complained that there was not enough excitement or leadership from the Front Bench today—however, there was £500 million. If £500 million was given to the aluminium or steel industries, I would put up with the lack of excitement or leadership.
In Wales, the manufacturing industry contributes 27 per cent. to GDP, while farming contributes less than 1 per cent.—in fact, it is probably a minus figure now. I believe that the figures for England are about 20 per cent. and 2 per cent. Yet more public money is poured into farming than into the rest of the economy and the manufacturing industry. At the heart of the very valuable Curry report is a stark message. Taxpayers are handing out huge subsidies every year for a policy that is destroying economic value, consumers are paying more for their food, the environment is being degraded and farming incomes are on the floor.
Mr. Jack: I am sorry if I lost the hon. Gentleman. In talking about the subsidised sector, I wanted to provide a point of contrast with the non-subsidised sector. I picked on horticulture to point out some of the difficulties that the non-subsidised world was having, because eventually I hope that the rest of farming may
move in that direction. I am sorry if I did not make my remarks clear, but it was to the horticultural industry that I wanted right hon. and hon. Members to look.
Let us look at another non-subsidised industry. If we had told the steel industry that we would treat it the same as farming, we would not have lost 1,500 jobs in my city in the past 12 months—instead, we would have had a set-aside blast furnace. We would have told the blast furnace men to carry on producing and said "You are making something which, unfortunately, for a brief period, is not competitive on the world market but if you continue producing it, we will dump it in a hole somewhere. We will pay everyone their full wages whether they are working or not and we will train people up to take apprenticeships for jobs that do not exist." However, the conditions that created the situation in the steel industry are precisely the ones that pertain in the agricultural industry, about which the right hon. Gentleman and others are complaining. The products produced in the steel industry are artificially dear when they are sold in euroland because of the value of the pound, while those produced in the Netherlands by the sister firm of the one in my constituency are artificially cheap, although the firm is less competitive than the one that has largely closed down in my constituency.
We have an industry that is in serious trouble but has been subsidised by the taxpayers for a long time. However, I have a piece of good news for the right hon. Gentleman. Something was published today, but unfortunately the Farmers Union of Wales did not issue a press release about it, nor did the National Farmers Union, despite the fact that I have had a blizzard of press releases from them throughout the year. Somehow they missed this one. Let us cheer everyone up a little. The news is that cash incomes for all dairy and livestock farms in Wales rose from £18,600 last year to £21,100—admittedly still low, but I have more good news to cheer up the right hon. Member for Fylde. Cash income from hill and upland farms, the worst-off farms, increased by £3,500 to £20,800. We should celebrate that slight amount of good news.
Mr. Jack: Before the hon. Gentleman paints me into the corner of subsidy and nothing else, let me tell him that my point about the horticulture industry was that it received no subsidy. I made my living in that industry before entering Parliament, and I solidly adhere to what the marketplace and responsiveness to customers' needs can do without subsidy.
Paul Flynn: Let me tell the right hon. Gentleman why I do not want that industry, which he knows well, to fall into the dependency culture. We should not create an industry that is subsidy-sensitive but market-blind. It is nothing new for people to be leaving the agriculture industry. Very few of those who are now leaving are going bankrupt or joining the dole queue. Those who own their farms can sell them and move into other industries, or do something else. People have been leaving agriculture for a very long time. A. G. Street wrote a book about farming in the 19th century and
depopulation, with the ironic title "Farmer's Glory". "The Deserted Village", written in the 18th century, begins:
"Ill fares the land to hastening ills a prey".
The process of depopulation in the farming industry is a continuous one. Unlike redundant steelworkers, who are not given a chunk of the blast furnace to take away, most farmers have the benefit of assets. About 15 per cent. of farmers are tenants and the rest are owners. Farm incomes have certainly dropped in recent years, although they are still in the top decile of their group, but the other assets have increased enormously: a 100 per cent. increase in real terms in the value of land from 1993 to 2000 and a similar increase in the value of farm buildings. A farmer leaving with such assets will have his prosperity assured.
The people who are left out are the tenant farmers. The right hon. Member for Skipton and Ripon (Mr. Curry) gave a definition of modulation. As I understood it, modulation was taking money from the rich millionaire English farmers and giving it to the small Welsh hill farmers—a policy that I strongly support. The Conservatives are very keen on the right to buy, so why not allow tenant farmers, after they have been farming for 10 or 15 years, say, to acquire the valuable assets on which they have been working?
The Conservatives have said that there should be an inquiry. I congratulate the Government on the way in which the reports have been published. The Anderson report was probably the most significant. I will not quote what Conservative Members said during the foot and mouth epidemic, as many of them would be embarrassed about the steps that they urged on the Government, for example on closing rural footpaths, which did the main damage to the tourist industry and proved not to have been necessary.
Everyone was wrong on occasion about foot and mouth, because the outbreak was unprecedented in scale. The Government have rightly and realistically accepted their responsibilities. We should not deceive ourselves and believe the myth that the outbreak was caused by the Government's mistake in allowing food imports. What happened here, which did not happen in the Netherlands, France, Ireland, or Scotland, was a vast spread of the disease. The Anderson report illustrates the great cobweb of movements that took place between the time of the first outbreak and when it was detected—a period of three weeks. As a result of that vast number of movements, more than 1 million animals were potentially infected. That was the reason for the scale of the calamity.
The only way to protect against that is to reduce such movements. Some of them were illegal, and most were about making the animals more profitable. Bed and breakfasting for sheep was one of a number of ways in which dealers moved animals about—ways that do not make any sense. Thanks to the courage of the Government, we now have the 20-day movement rule. They have compromised in that regard—there is a strong case for a 28-day movement rule, because of the incubation period of the disease—but it is not just foot and mouth that we should worry about. We should also be concerned about blue tongue virus, vesicular stomatitis and a great many other diseases that will almost certainly come at some time. We will have an
outbreak of some disease in the near future. Blue tongue virus poses a particular and new threat, because of various changes that are taking place in climate, and so on. If such diseases do arrive, we will need those restrictions on animal movements. There are alternatives to such movements.
The problem is that the industry is extremely conservative. It does not like to change in any way, or to form co-operatives, and it was very slow to enter organic production. During the foot and mouth crisis, animal movements were greatly and necessarily reduced. In many cases, the industry then started to use video links, the internet and direct sales, which had all manner of beneficial effects. Such methods were very efficient and quick. They cut down on the number of journeys made by animals, which also reduced animal suffering. The industry could well return to that, if it accepts the absolutely essential precaution of the 20-day rule, which is complained of in the amendment from the Opposition.
I shall briefly mention my experience of organic farming. I vividly remember a number of friends of mine starting up organic farms in Ceredigion in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Now, they are all extremely prosperous, but at the time they were regarded as weird and strange. They were laughed at by their neighbours, who said, "The soil is too thin, you won't be able to grow anything here." Now, it is the neighbours who are suffering privations. It was those organic farmers—sadly, as it happens most of them came from outside Wales—who had the leadership and the foresight to realise that organic farming had a great future. However, it is a sad fact for the entire farming industry that some 75 per cent. of the organic food consumed in this country is imported. We were very late entering into that market.
People still go on about blaming the supermarkets, and I am sure that there is a case to be made in that regard. The Competition Commission conducted two major inquiries into the way that supermarkets treat their relationship with farmers. Both inquiries concluded that there is nothing wrong, and that supermarkets are behaving in a reasonable way. However, there is an answer to the problem. As has been pointed out, in France and in other countries farmers combine into co-operatives, but the problem remains of the endemic conservatism of our farming industry, and the reason for that is the dependency culture.
Since the war, farmers have got into the frame of mind whereby they believe that, when a problem occurs, someone else will solve it for them. They look to the Government to come up with a subsidy; indeed, today the Government are being asked to provide solutions. Other industries do not do that—the high-tech industry is not asking the Government to solve its problems, and nor is any other manufacturing industry. Because of farming's dependency culture, it is looking to Europe, to the Welsh Assembly and to anywhere else to solve all its problems. When the farming industry decides to stand on its own two feet, we can look forward to a firmer and better future for agriculture.
However, a great mythology has grown up: we have to be grateful to the farming industry for our beautiful countryside. It is as though, if farming comes to an end, the hills and mountains will fall flat, the rivers will dry up and we shall no longer have an attractive landscape. Our countryside is beautiful because of what nature has done. In northern Scotland and in Iceland, there are sites of great natural grandeur in areas that have never been farmed. In many farming areas, the blots on the landscape are the agricultural buildings and silos that have been put up without planning permission.
Mr. Hayes: I intervene only in case there is no time later for me to refute the crass points about our landscape that the hon. Gentleman has just made. He is a man of great experience and insight so he must know that the vast bulk of rural Britain is a manufactured landscape—it is not just mountains and streams. In any case, even streams have to be maintained. The countryside has to be husbanded and it is husbanded by farmers. We owe our countryside to farmers and I hope that the hon. Gentleman has the generosity and common sense to acknowledge that.
Paul Flynn: If the hon. Gentleman had been listening carefully, he would have realised that I was making the point that farming is not essential and that nature was beautiful before farming arrived and will be beautiful when farming ends. Compared to the way in which we use vast tracts of land at present, the future for farming will be entirely different in 50 years; as we can see, for example, in the plans for farming being developed at Delta park in Rotterdam. We must not fall into the trap of believing that huge tracts of land cannot be used for leisure purposes that are not necessarily connected with farming. I am sure that we shall see that in my grandchildren's time.
This is the first time that I have spoken in a farming debate in the House, although I represent a constituency where there were three outbreaks of foot and mouth last year. Some farmers no longer farm their land and use it as a large garden, but there are also a number of working farms. I want to cite one example to answer those people who say that we must never change anything and that if land has always been in production, it must remain so.
In one area of my constituency, two and a half farms employed no more than four people. The farms received subsidies and were a drain on the economy, like most farms. Nowadays, the land is no longer farmed but is occupied by an enterprise—a resort employing 400 people. The resort will host the Ryder cup in 2010 and will be of huge advantage to the nearby city. There has been a huge improvement in the use of that land.
Another farm that closed down was replaced by a golf course which employed 2,000 people. In many rural areas, when farmland is reused for other purposes, especially for recreation, more people are employed in almost every case. There are benefits to the local economy and there is no longer a drain on the Exchequer because subsidies are no longer needed.
so. By the time that produce from most farms gets to the farm gate, it is already worth less than the cost of production. That does not make sense.
Mr. Jack: The hon. Gentleman's analysis misses out one element: the strategic need for agriculture. Within the past few weeks, because of drought in the United States and Australia, feed wheat from the United Kingdom is being exported to Australia. We need to take a world-strategic view on farming from time to time, not merely the hon. Gentleman's view.
Paul Flynn: Let us consider the most serious strategic view—the most depressing thing that happened during the foot and mouth epidemic, when the production of meat almost closed down in this country. What would have happened if that had been any other product in any other industry? There would have been shortages, price increases and queues at the supermarket. However, during the foot and mouth epidemic, there were no queues, no shortages and no price increases. The reason for that is a good one. We should look to a country where, in 1984, 40 per cent. of its income came from subsidies, yet by 1987 it had no subsidies. That country looks back to 1984 as the dark days of dependency. It does not want to go back to them. It does not want subsidies again. In that country, if I could draw the attention of the right hon. Gentleman to the strategic situation—
Paul Flynn: Yes, it is New Zealand. It is cheaper to bring meat from New Zealand to meat processors in Wales than to buy the cattle on the hills around the meat-processing firm. The right hon. Gentleman may well know that the Consumers Association analysed the price of food in Britain and New Zealand. There were no subsidises on the other side of the world, but the basket of all farm foods was half the price of our food in this country. That is precisely what Curry is saying in his report. The policies on agriculture that we have pursued for so long have given us high prices, a degraded environment and a farming industry that does not have the rewards that it should have.
Mr. James Paice (South-East Cambridgeshire): I have listened to all the speeches in this debate with great interest, and I have agreed with a substantial amount that has been said by virtually all hon. Members, especially the hon. Member for Sherwood (Paddy Tipping), who always puts a very reasoned case on agriculture and rural issues. However, the hon. Member for Newport, West (Paul Flynn) has displayed why it is perhaps a good job that he has not spoken in agriculture debates before. Very few people who understand farming, the countryside and the rural economy would recognise the picture that he painted. He missed the point—this was touched on by my right hon. Friend the Member for Fylde (Mr. Jack)—that farming is about producing food.
that proportionally it is a very large country with a small population—fewer than 4 million people, I think—to feed and its agricultural land area is much bigger than that of the United Kingdom, even if we include all the highlands of Scotland as prime agricultural land, which, of course, they are not. So there is a very great difference.
We need to consider how food will be provided in the future, which is why I intervened on the Secretary of State. To talk about taking vast swathes of the British countryside out of agriculture in the way that the hon. Gentleman describes raises the serious question, which I want to come to in a moment, about strategic food supplies in the long term—not just in the next few years or even the next decade or so—given the world population projections to which my hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet (Sir Sydney Chapman) referred earlier.
Before I make my own remarks, I must remind the House of my interests as declared in the Register of Members' Interests. I fear that I fall entirely into the category to which my right hon. Friend the Member for Skipton and Ripon (Mr. Curry) referred. I have a tiny piece of land, which can only be described as a lifestyle farm, but, because it grows corn, I have to declare the issue to the House.
A number of hon. Members have said that farming is in its worst state since the 1930s. That is perfectly true. The hon. Member for Braintree (Mr. Hurst), who is no longer in his place, very clearly and capably encapsulated in a few sentences how we got into this situation and what has happened since the 1930s. He drew a distinction between the depression of the 1930s and what he called the recession of today, and he rightly said that the thing that differentiated the two was land values.
I would argue that it is only the value of the land that has stopped today's situation in agriculture becoming as bad as that in the 1930s because it has provided farmers—at least owner-occupiers—with a significant asset. Agriculture is a very low-geared industry, so owner-occupiers can at least get out and buy a house to live in. Whether there is sufficient capital to generate an income to live on depends, of course, on the circumstances. Land values are now being held up for non-agricultural reasons: the most important being that, for individual reasons, large numbers of people from the more prosperous sectors of the economy espouse the ownership of land for its own sake. They want a nice house in the country, so they buy a house with farmland all round it, without being particularly interested in farming. They are prepared to pay very large sums, which inflates the value of land. The impact of roll-over tax relief for farmers in the south-east in particular—and for anyone else who owns land in the south-east, sells it for development and wants to roll it over—holds up the value of land, too. Were it not for those extraneous pressures, we would have seen a huge collapse in the price of land, which would have exacerbated the overall problems facing farming, because the asset value would have disappeared, and the gearing of many farmers, who today may seem relatively low-geared, would have gone up dramatically if the asset value had collapsed with it.
not come on to the market—again thankfully, as it would have led to a collapse in land prices. Those are predominantly arable areas, where farms are now taken on by other farmers under some kind of farm business tenancy, contract farming or management farming arrangement. It is common knowledge that many farmers in arable areas now farm what are very large chunks of farmland in totality. In my part of the world, there are several farmers farming between 3,000 and 6,000 acres. That land is probably in the ownership of 10 or even 20 different landowners who were formerly small farmers but who have decided that it was not worth continuing and have come to an arrangement with another farmer who is prepared to invest in the high levels of machinery required to farm that sort of land.
That is not to the environmental advantage of the area, as some 200-acre farms are being farmed by contract farmers who come in with vast equipment—sometimes 300 horsepower equipment on four wheels or tracks—which rips up the farmland, ploughs and drills it, and is gone again within a couple of days. In the meantime, huge disruption is caused to wildlife and the local environment, which would not have occurred if there had been traditional farming, with a man using much smaller equipment and taking his time.
I want to refer to a couple of other small points. In her opening address, the Secretary of State did not show much humility, and, as other right hon. and hon. Members have said, the motion shows none whatever. It is strong on fine words but real commitment or action is woefully absent. Nowhere is that clearer than in relation to the foot and mouth outbreak and what happened in response to it. I had the privilege to sit on the Front Bench when the foot and mouth outbreak was at its peak and I witnessed the then Ministers being clueless as to what to do. The former Minister of Agriculture is a perfectly decent, nice man, but he was clearly totally out of his depth when trying to control and manage that crisis. Yet we have seen no humility, about its handling by the former Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food or by the rest of the Government who were involved.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Mr. Elliot Morley): I do not want the hon. Gentleman's remarks about my former ministerial colleague in the old Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food to pass unchallenged. The hon. Gentleman was on the Opposition Front Bench in that period and he will remember that there was much praise for my right hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, East and Wallsend (Mr. Brown) for the way in which he handled the Department in the crisis. That crisis was unprecedented, as independent reports have recognised, but it was brought under control within the same time scale as the much smaller 1967 outbreak and it did not restart unlike the 1967 outbreak.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has made it clear quite openly that mistakes were made in handling a crisis on that scale. We are not trying to pretend that they did not occur—so, in that sense, there is no lack of humility. The hon. Gentleman is very fair-minded, but his remarks about my right hon. Friend the former Minister at MAFF were unfair.
Mr. Paice: I want to emphasise that I hold no grudge or grievance against the former Minister. I have immense time and respect for him. I like him very much. I do not want anyone to be under a misapprehension. In that respect, my remarks were not a personal criticism. However, I believe that the right hon. Gentleman was out of his depth as a manager of a senior Department. It was evident at that time that he was responding to all sorts of advice and pressures and was not able to handle the crisis as a head of a Department should be able to. I am afraid that—whether it is fair or not—the buck stops at the top. I also notice that if the right hon. Gentleman had been so wonderful, he might have been the current Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs instead of being moved down a rank in the subsequent reshuffle.
I was about to say that most farmers want and welcome the need for change. That change will mean reduced production support. I say "reduced", because, although I share other hon. Members' view that we need to move away from production support altogether, the reality of CAP reform is that such support will not go entirely. There will be a reduction.
Sir Sydney Chapman: I perfectly understand my hon. Friend's argument, but does he not think that it is a funny world when it is estimated that the aid that the developed countries give to the developing countries is only one seventh of what the developed countries give in subsidies to agricultural production?
Mr. Paice: My hon. Friend tempts me to consider the whole issue of helping the under-developed or developing world—what we used to call the third world before it became politically incorrect to do so. I have a huge personal interest in the subject, having visited many such countries. I do not want to spend much time considering that aspect of the CAP, but I agree that it is an obstacle to the development of those countries.
Those of us who have farmers in our constituencies will admit that some farmers will resist change. They have always done the same thing and want to continue doing the same thing. If that is what they want to do, that is their choice—so be it, and I would not for a moment suggest that the House, the Government or the European Union have a responsibility to ensure that they should be able to continue as they have if they are not prepared to face up to the need for change. But most farmers want change.
As others have said, most farmers and people in the countryside generally feel immensely let down by the Government. Many farmers do not understand the difference between food production in the terms that the Government use and the need for the strategic supply and the security of the food supply that I mentioned earlier. They do not understand why the Government have openly—it is in the documents that were published
this morning—decided that security of food supply is no longer a facet of agricultural policy in Europe. Farmers hear Ministers refer, as they do in the motion, to
"a vibrant food and farming sector",
I know that Labour Members will not like my next comment, but I must refer to a very small incident that was of nevertheless of huge importance. The Secretary of State went to Paris to promote the export of British beef, but refused to eat it. [Interruption.] The Minister makes a dismissive gesture and a guttural utterance, but his response demonstrates more than anything that the Government do not understand how important it is to be publicly supportive of people. I received phone calls and letters about that incident, as I am sure did my hon. Friend the Member for West Derbyshire (Mr. McLoughlin) and other hon. Friends who represent areas that produce more livestock than mine does. People were incensed by the right hon. Lady's refusal to eat the beef. I do not know what was behind the incident. Civil servants scrabbled around for reasons to explain her refusal, but it demonstrated that she was not prepared to show the courage to stand up for British beef.
Mr. Michael Beaumont, a butcher in a village in my constituency, rang me the day after the incident. He was "absolutely disgusted" at the Secretary of State's refusal to eat that beef, and he is not even a producer.
A number of hon. Members mentioned biofuels. I welcome the Chancellor's U-turn in the space of 18 months in deciding to reduce by 20p a litre the duty on bioethanol. When we debated the Finance Bill on 24 April 2001, the right hon. Gentleman flatly refused to extend the reduction to bioethanol despite introducing it to biodiesel. The only thing that changed in the interval was the fall in the price of grain. I want to issue a word of caution on that. Although I doubt that 20p will be sufficient to trigger the industry, as the hon. Member for Sherwood (Paddy Tipping) said, we need to recognise that the figures have been worked out on the price of wheat today, which is roughly £55 a tonne. That is less than half what it was 10 years ago. Whether or not £55 a tonne is an economical feedstock price for the production of bioethanol, it is certainly not an economic price for the production of wheat. Farmers will not continue to produce wheat at £55 a tonne, especially as their production support—their integrated administration and control system cheque—reduces alongside it.
The linkage of payments to the environment is often quoted. Some 14 years ago I wrote a paper for my right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer), the then Minister, advocating a broad and shallow scheme similar to that now advocated by Mr. Don Curry. Although I think the new proposal is sensible, the article in Farmers Weekly has made me concerned about the bureaucracy involved.
areas, we need to bear three things in mind. First, we must ensure that any scheme does not incur excessive bureaucracy that eats away the budget. Secondly, we must truly recognise, as the hon. Member for Braintree (Mr. Hurst) said, the total cost to the producer and the landowner. Costs are not merely equivalent to the loss of growing a crop. If a farmer is going to lose money growing a crop, it will not make any difference if he does not grow it and he will still lose the same sum. He will just be replacing one non-profitable land use with another. The sums involved have to produce a return for the care of the environment.
The third consideration is that we must recognise the conditions under which competition exists within Europe and across the globe. The Government regularly wax lyrical, as indeed do I, about the inequities of the CAP and its impact on free trade, especially with the developing world. However, I wonder whether we understand the consequences for our own producers as well as overseas producers. There are obviously factors such as labour costs on which we cannot compete. I have seen workers in Kenya and Zambia picking peas for a dollar a day for Tesco—clearly, we cannot compete with that, and nor should we try to do so. However, many competitive issues arise from our obligations to our producers and are a challenge that no Government have got to grips with. To return to the crucial issue of food production, we cannot expect British farmers to compete successfully and contribute to the vibrant food industry sought by the Government if they are vying with imported food which is inferior or has been produced under less rigorous regulatory systems. Regulations on animal health and welfare, pesticide control, waste management, landscape obligations and nitrate vulnerable zones all add huge costs to British producers, but they are not borne by many other producers, in both the developing and the developed world.
This is not just a selfish plea on behalf of farmers—there is also an impact on consumers and livestock, and the issue should be on our conscience. If the use of certain agri-chemicals or animal health products is banned or limited to certain purposes, it is usually in the name of food safety or sometimes environmental safety. It therefore does not make sense to expose our consumers or livestock to those chemicals in imported food, and is especially absurd in the European context, where there is free movement of goods. Enlargement will bring in central and eastern European countries that have already undermined many of our traditional markets, particularly the soft fruit market, where the produce all comes from Poland, largely destroying the soft fruit trade in this country. We need to consider carefully whether such food is as safe as ours to eat. Do they still use products that we have banned in this country?
On animal welfare, surely we have learned that onerous controls on welfare make no overall difference to individual animal welfare. If, as the Government wish, we ban all battery cages yet continue to import egg or egg products produced that way, we will not have improved overall the welfare of a single chicken. We can, in all conscience, claim to have improved the welfare of British chickens, but if they are replaced as producers by 10 times more chickens in battery cages in Poland, the United States and Brazil, have we done
anybody or any chicken a favour? We face the same dilemma with environmental issues. We all want to protect our environment, whether water or air quality, the landscape or wildlife, but should that be at the expense of the environment in other countries? It may be argued that if Australia wants to continue growing wheat on land where it may not be wise to do so, and cause salination and desertification, it should be free to do so. The same argument applies to parts of Africa and the developing world, where the land cannot sustain intensive agriculture. Similarly, we could argue that it should be up to Brazil if it wants to destroy the rainforest.
However, we do not apply that rule to timber. As was said earlier, we have strong controls on the import of timber from virgin rainforests, as that could cause untold environmental degradation, but we do not impose the same controls on food imports from countries where production results in environmental degradation. That does not make sense, but how are we to respond? The first option, which I reject immediately, is significant import controls—they would be illegal in many cases and run counter to free trade. The second option is to abolish or lower dramatically our standards and regulations. That is equally undesirable and would probably be politically unpopular and impossible. Many regulations could be removed—I decry the Government's failure to assess regulatory controls, especially in Europe—but abolishing all of them or reducing their powers is not acceptable. So we come to the third option, which is to allow our producers to compete fairly. The only way to achieve fairness is to cost properly the impact on our producers of the regulations that we impose on them and which are not imposed on other producers who compete in our food markets. If we feed those costs back into the support system, we can to some extent level that famous playing field.
I do not believe that British farmers are opposed to competition. Like hon. Members in all parts of the House, I go out and speak to countless farmers. They object not to competition, but to unfair competition from people who do not have the same conditions imposed upon them as on our farmers. I am not advocating supporting inefficient producers. The regulations are not necessarily for the farmers' good; they are for the public good and for the environment, so in my view they are totally justified. It might also discourage Government from imposing ever more regulations on the industry if they knew that they would have to pay for them.
The document published by the Government this morning proposes to take forward the concept of whole-farm management plans. That is a commendable idea, and it provides the vehicle for what I am advocating—a vehicle for recognising the extra costs put on our farmers, so that they can compete fairly. All the other factors will then come into play and allow the good, efficient farmer to compete successfully. Those who cannot will not be able to blame the Government, only themselves. They may try to blame others, but they will have no justification for doing so.
I believe in a competitive British farming industry. Unlike the hon. Member for Newport, West (Paul Flynn), I believe that it has a great future, but only if it is allowed to compete fairly. The Government have failed to grasp that nettle. There is no mention of fair competition in any of the documents published this morning. If I am honest, I must say that I do not think that the previous Government grasped the nettle as firmly as it should have been grasped. That is the only way that we can ensure a future for British agriculture, not just for food production, but for the whole rural economy and the maintenance of so much of our landscape, which is a crucial benefit from agriculture. We can achieve that only if competition is fair, and that is up to Government. So far we have seen no sign that they recognise that.
Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): Order. There are roughly 65 minutes left before the winding-up speeches begin and nine hon. Members are seeking to catch my eye. If the Back-Bench speeches continue to approximate to the average so far, six of those hon. Members will be unlucky. I appeal to hon. Members to take as unselfish a view as they can.
Mr. Huw Edwards (Monmouth): It is a pleasure to contribute to the debate. Agriculture debates in the House in the early part of last year were far more emotional and far more divisive as a result of the foot and mouth crisis. It is a pleasure to see that there has been some recovery since then.
I agreed with the last point made by the hon. Member for South-East Cambridgeshire (Mr. Paice). Since the immediate post-war period, Governments of both parties have not had an adequate long-term farming strategy. The hon. Member with whom I disagreed most today is my hon. Friend the Member for Newport, West (Paul Flynn), which saddens me greatly as we have neighbouring constituencies. As soon as he moves north out of the lovely town of Caerleon in his constituency, he comes into the Usk valley in my constituency. Where does he think the milk comes from that is drunk in his constituency? It comes from the dairy farms of Wales—of the Usk valley—and many of those milk producers barely cover their own costs, even though in recent months the price of milk has gone up. Who does my hon. Friend think maintains the beautiful Usk valley? It is the farmers who maintain the Usk valley and the Llanthony valley in my constituency, and even many parts of the beautiful Wye valley in my constituency, although most of it is forested.
I am pleased to be able to contribute to this debate because it centres on the Government's response to the Curry report. About a year ago, I attended a meeting of farmers in Raglan in the middle of my constituency. I gave a brief summary of the Curry report and the equivalent report that had been produced in Wales by the then Welsh Minister for Rural Affairs, Carwyn Jones. I had greater sympathy with the Welsh report than with the Curry report, which I thought was more market driven and had a more pessimistic outlook for the farmers of my constituency. None the less, the farmers to whom I spoke were far more impressed with the Curry report and thought that it was more realistic. They recognise that the future of subsidies is limited and
that there must be a much greater shift towards agri-environmental schemes, which have been applauded in Wales. In particular, increasing numbers of farmers in my constituency are taking advantage of the tyr gofal scheme.
Some 12 to 18 months after the foot and mouth crisis, some of the farmers in my constituency who were deeply affected are recovering. The recovery is slow, as the outbreak had important consequences. Hon. Members may have seen a story in the press this week about Mr. Bill James, the owner of the abattoir in the middle of my constituency who was prosecuted by the Food Standards Agency for exceeding his slaughter limit by about 20 per cent. He admitted that he had done so and pleaded guilty in Newport magistrates court, but said that he had acted under pressure from the farming community, when, during the foot and mouth crisis and its aftermath, he was being required to slaughter increasing amounts of stock. It seems that he did so with the tacit approval both of DEFRA and of Carwyn Jones, the Welsh agriculture Minister, who wrote to me saying that when he had written to Mr. James asking about raising the limit, he had said that it had already been exceeded. However, there was no suggestion that he was doing anything particularly wrong or that he should suffer a prosecution. I was very pleased when Mr. James received only a conditional discharge earlier this week. I hope to see him in his Raglan slaughterhouse tomorrow. I have been there many times before and have been mightily relieved to get out alive, especially when I have been lobbied hard about vets' fees and the other regulations facing abattoirs. I can visit tomorrow and say, "I am glad that I was able to produce a little bit of the evidence that helped to get you only a conditional discharge from your prosecution."
Paul Flynn: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way. May I assure him that I do not have to visit his constituency to find the people who ensure that the Usk valley is still green? They are very much the people of Caerleon. If I want to go to the places where milk is being produced, I can go Rogerstone, Bassaleg, Lower Machen, Llanfihangel-yn-fedw, Peterstone, Wentloog, Coed Cernew, St. Brides, Llansantffraed and many other places in my constituency.
Mr. Edwards: When my hon. Friend goes to see all those places, I hope that he can give a little more support to the farmers who produce the milk than he seems to have given in the House today. He and I have differences on both farming and drugs, although I respect his ability to speak articulately about those issues.
One of the issues that is affecting my farmers is movement restrictions. We all know why the 20-day standstill was introduced, but it is causing a certain amount of hardship to farmers in my constituency. Those who take their stock to market and cannot sell it have to bring it back to their farm and keep it for another three weeks. They might then have to take it back to market, and if they do not sell it again six weeks will have gone by in which they have been keeping stocks that they do not want. That has been a particular problem and I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will review the current situation with regard to the 20-day standstill.
A second issue that has been especially important in my constituency is late payment. I have been getting quite a few complaints from farmers because their sheep annual premium, integrated administration and control scheme payments, organic conversion payments and other tyr gofal payments are very late this year. We constantly hear that that will all be rectified by a new computer system in Llandrindod Wells, but the evidence is that there are still considerable delays.
Like other hon. Members, I was disturbed when I attended a seminar in the House last week on the problem of illegal meat imports. I had known that the farmers of my constituency cited illegal meat imports as one of the causes of foot and mouth, but I had not realised how extensive the trade was. We were given a very disturbing presentation. I hope that the Government will be able to give Customs and Excise the resources necessary to ensure that illegal imports are reduced as much as possible, if not eliminated, and thereby help to reduce the black market in meat imports. Some of it will be going into the food chain—and possibly to reputable butchers. We need more investment to enable environmental health services and Customs and Excise to control the system.
There are a few poultry producers in my constituency. A few weeks ago, I had the great privilege to visit Mr. Tom Vesey, president of the Free Range Poultry Producers Association. He raised with me an important issue affecting his industry—the lack of contracts between supermarkets and egg packers, which is leading to insecurity throughout the industry.
I have been contacted about the problems of disposing of hens that are no longer producing eggs. The market for meat from those hens has disappeared in countries such as Nigeria. As a result, hens that are no longer required are being put into landfill sites. There are potentially about 30 million such hens in the United Kingdom. Without some way of supporting that part of the industry, the environmental costs will be huge.
Improvements have been made recently. I give credit to the Welsh Development Agency and to the farming connect service, which is helping farmers to diversify and is giving them business support. More investment has been made in education and training for farmers and the farming community. I believe in the Government's commitment to lifelong learning. It seems that such commitments have never previously affected people involved in farming and related industries. I hope that there will be greater investment to help farmers with diversification.
One area of diversification that I would not support that affects especially the Usk valley in my constituency is sand and gravel extraction. As a result of the Symonds report, 29 sites have been identified in my constituency where there are sand and gravel deposits. I initiated an Adjournment debate on the subject in the Welsh Grand Committee last week, so there is no need to go into the arguments that I advanced on that occasion. However, I hope that the Welsh Assembly and the local authority will have environmental policies that are robust enough to resist applications for sand and gravel extraction, and that the beautiful Usk valley will be protected and will become a more prosperous area for the farmers in my constituency.
Mr. Patrick McLoughlin (West Derbyshire): I am grateful to be called to participate in the debate. I was optimistic that we would hear more encouraging words from the Secretary of State. However, the right. hon. Lady's speech was one of the most complacent that I have heard in this place. It was especially complacent, coming on the back of a Select Committee report that states:
"In order to carry out that work effectively the Department must provide accurate and comprehensive data, and must set itself targets against which performance can be measured. DEFRA has not succeeded in doing so this year. In part this may be due to confusion over Treasury guidelines for presentation of financial information. These need to be clear, stable and transparent. In future, we expect its Annual Report to be considerably improved."
The report goes on to be quite a damning indictment of the way in which the Department has been managed over the first 12 months of its existence. However, to hear the Secretary of State, one would think that everything was fine and that the Department had got off to a glowing start. We have only to read what the Select Committee set out in its comprehensive report to learn that, unfortunately, that is not the case.
That feeds across to agriculture, which is an especially important industry in west Derbyshire and in the Derbyshire dales. Huge numbers of visitors come to the Peak district. People come to enjoy the countryside, but I agree with the hon. Member for Monmouth (Mr. Edwards) that it does not exist through nature but because it is farmed, maintained and looked after. Our farmers look after it. Without their work, it would not be there for many millions of people to enjoy at weekends and on bank holidays. Anybody who does not acknowledge the uniqueness and importance of agriculture does it a grave disservice.
Farming is in the sixth year of recession, and it has faced many problems in that time, not least foot and mouth disease, to which my hon. Friend the Member for South-East Cambridgeshire (Mr. Paice) referred. I shall not go into detail about it because of the shortage of time. However, my hon. Friend was a little tough on the previous Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, who perhaps did not have enough of a free hand to handle the outbreak because the Prime Minister was always breathing down his neck. The general election was far more important to the Government at that stage than the travesty that was happening and the problems of British agriculture.
Farmers in my constituency talk about the collapse of commodity prices from the late 1990s. Farming has been hit by excessive red tape and the way in which the United Kingdom gold-plates some legislation. The nitrates vulnerable zone legislation has already been mentioned. Excessive regulation is becoming a major problem for the industry and it is getting worse. In February next year, new regulations will require the tagging of individual sheep. I am worried about whether that will have long-term benefits.
In 2002, there have been major delays in payments under various cattle subsidy schemes, to which several hon. Members have referred. Data held by the Rural Payments Agency were not reconciled with that held by the Cattle Movement Service. It is vital that the payment
and verification schemes are renewed so that the problems that have occurred this year are not repeated in 2003.
As many hon. Members have said, there has been a tremendous loss of jobs in agriculture. Although the industry has gone through changes, some 67,000 people have lost their jobs and 8,600 have abandoned farming. Investment is at its lowest for 30 years. The indicators are worrying for the future of farming.
Young people are not coming into agriculture. Who can blame them for asking, "What is the point?" The Government introduced the minimum wage. Most farmers would like to be on it because they work longer hours for less money than the minimum wage. That also applies to many people who work on family farms.
One of the most disturbing aspects is the difference between the price that farmers receive for a product and the price that the consumer pays for it. Beef has a farmgate value of about £1.72 per kg, yet the retail value is £6.58. The farmer therefore receives some 26 per cent. of the retail value. It is estimated that farmers receive 25 per cent. of the retail value of milk, 21 per cent. of that of eggs, and 8 per cent. of that of potatoes.
The average age of farmers is 58. The suicide rate among farmers is extremely worrying. I recently received a letter from a mother whose son had committed suicide in Monyash. She told me of the resulting devastation in the family. Perhaps those individual tragedies do not get the national headlines that bigger tragedies receive. Nevertheless, they are devastating for families and communities.
The UK dairy industry is the seventh largest in the world and the third largest in Europe. We have 30,000 dairy farmers, 150 of whom are in west Derbyshire. It is one of the largest sectors in the agricultural industry, and it deserves to have more notice taken of it by the Government. Dairy farmers have been trying to ensure that the 2p a litre rise in milk prices announced by the retailers in recent weeks is passed on to them, after prices were reduced at the start of this year. There is no doubt that most farmers are now selling their milk for less than they get to produce it.
A number of the ancillary industries that are so reliant on agriculture have also been lost. In my own constituency a few weeks ago, Nestli announced that it was closing a plant in Ashbourne that had been in operation since 1911. That has had a devastating impact on the town, because the factory was seen very much as part of the local community. I hope that the Government will consider some of these issues, and be far more positive about them.
I shall return in a moment to my remarks on agriculture, but, while I have the Minister's attention, I would like to say a few words about the review of English national park authorities that the Government published earlier this year. The Government are suggesting that the size of the national park authorities should be substantially reduced, in terms of their governance and the number of members that sit on them. I urge the Minister to look at this proposal very carefully. It is vital that national park authorities have local representation on them. The parish representatives, who were introduced some years ago by my right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer), were criticised at the time, but I think
that most people would now accept that they have played an important part in providing the authorities with an elected element. I have never argued for a directly elected national park authority. We have to recognise that there are matters of national importance that the authorities should rightly consider. I would be very sad if the Government decided to press ahead with some of the recommendations to reduce the size of these authorities. It would be a retrograde step for the parks, as it would reduce local representation.
Time is of the essence, so I shall say just one more thing to the Minister. It is essential that his Department become more of a flag-bearer for British agricultural industry. The Royal Agricultural Benevolent Institution said in September:
"British farming needs a new and constructive relationship with the Government. The perception currently among ordinary farmers is that the Government is at best not bothered and at worst, hostile to the interests of British farming. The trust between the farming community and DEFRA is mutually at an all time low."
I do not think that that is what the Government want. It is certainly not what the agricultural industry wants. It is essential that DEFRA should try to turn those attitudes around, so that agriculture can believe that the Department is carrying a positive message for it, and also giving a positive message to the countryside. Unlike the hon. Member for Newport, West (Paul Flynn), I believe that most people in this country appreciate and value the countryside. If it is not maintained and looked after—which is what he seemed to wish to see—the Government will pay a very heavy price.
Mr. Kelvin Hopkins (Luton, North): I have listened with interest this afternoon to many fine speeches making a number of different points. I have to say that I disagree with some colleagues, particularly my hon. Friend the Member for Newport, West (Paul Flynn). We agree on so many things, but, sadly, on this issue, he seems to be a convert to the economics of Milton Friedman, and I certainly do not agree with that.
Yesterday, I made a speech about the CAP in an Adjournment debate. I do not want to repeat that speech now, but in it I put forward the proposition that the CAP should be abolished. We should put that proposition on the table and try to negotiate it with our colleagues in the European Union. I have even proposed a way of defusing some of the political difficulties that might be involved. This will have to happen one day, and we ought to start talking about it now.
The Adjournment debate in Westminster Hall was secured by my right hon. Friend the Member for Tyneside, North (Mr. Byers), who made an excellent speech. I refer hon. Members to what he said. The conclusion that we should draw from his arguments is that the CAP should be abolished. I have felt that for a long time, and I have said so many times. It should be replaced by a repatriated system of agricultural policies, with subsidies where appropriate. Appropriate subsidies should be decided by Government according to needs. We could debate those at length. Many areas do not need subsidy, but some do. We should consider the needs of consumers, farmers and the environment in designing a new agricultural policy that is tuned to our own needs.
Every EU member state is different, especially those about to join, and their agricultural policies should be adjusted and tuned to their own needs. Redistributive incomes across the European Union should be assessed according to prosperity and not determined by some arbitrary system through the CAP. Some richer nations are net beneficiaries and some slightly poorer nations, such as the United Kingdom—we are not as rich as Denmark—are net contributors merely because of the perverse effect of the CAP.
The common fisheries policy has been touched on, and my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary knows my view on that. He does not agree with me. I have great respect for him, and he does a fine job, but I believe that the CFP should be abandoned forthwith. It has been a complete and utter disaster. The only way to preserve fish stocks in the North sea and the shores around the European Union is by nations establishing extensive national fisheries that they husband themselves. They will have a natural self-interest in doing that. The only country in Europe that still has reasonable fish stocks is Norway, because it has its own fishing fields and is not part of the CFP. I make that point strongly, and I hope that one day the abolition of the CFP will come to pass.
There are political ways forward on all these difficult issues. Clearly, some countries would be upset, but they could be reassured if there were tapering arrangements to deal with subsidies over a period.
A number of hon. Members have also referred to energy policy, which should include low-carbon vehicles. Many of my constituents have worked in the motor industry for many years—far too few of them since the closure of Vauxhall Motors. Vauxhall still has an office in Luton, and recently I saw a prototype of a fuel cell-driven car. It is an impressive vehicle, but it is unfortunately still very expensive. I suspect that motor manufacturers are still committed to the standard internal combustion engine, driven by petrol or diesel oil. Obviously, replacing that capital investment will be expensive and will take time, but Governments have a duty to encourage and pressurise manufacturers to move in that direction. I look forward to driving a car that does not produce carbon dioxide, but instead produces water. When hydrogen is burned in the air it produces H2O. The electrical input must be created in another way, but there are alternatives to carbon for electricity generation.
It is disappointing that we have been so slow to adopt solar heating and solar electricity generation for domestic, commercial and industrial buildings. Global warming may make that easier to do in Britain. Within the next year or two, I am hoping to lead by example and have solar-voltaic cell panels on my own home. The Government provide a 50 per cent. subsidy, which is welcome, and I congratulate them on that great advance. I think that that will persuade people, but the advance is still painfully slow. The number of people installing solar panels in their roofs is low. The initial capital cost is the problem. There should be novel ways of overcoming that. They could be installed free with a capital charge on the value of the house. I am sure that something could be done. If we invested money in solar roof panels—water heating and photo-voltaic panels—rather than in nuclear energy, we would be spending our money much better.
Over a long period, it might be possible to provide the whole country with solar roof panels. Photo-voltaic cell panels can now be made in a way that makes them look very nice: they look like ordinary roof tiles, while generating electricity. They can be plugged into the mains, enabling people to put electricity back into the mains from their houses and to gain a financial benefit. There are obviously tremendous advantages in this, but it must be sold hard, supported, sustained and driven forward. We could in fact develop a big solar roof panel industry, which would help manufacturing.
I am also concerned about transport, particularly public transport. For a long time I have advocated the building of a freight railway running from the north-west through the channel tunnel to Lille, skirting round or going through London. That "central railway" is one idea, although there are variations on the theme. In any event, we could do with a dedicated freight route that could cope with fully sized lorries and trailers. There would be no need for specially cut down trailers. It would be a roll-on, roll-off service from the north of England—of course, it could accommodate Scotland and other areas as well—to the continent and, ultimately, to its industrial heartland.
That would be a tremendous advance. It would be extremely attractive to hauliers. It would reduce the need for road-building; it would also reduce road damage, environmental degradation throughout the country and the traffic jams around Birmingham and London. It is a modest proposal, involving four trains an hour in each direction and a roll-on, roll-off facility for lorries travelling from the north-west through the Pennines to Sheffield, past the east and west midlands to the continent—hopefully taking our goods out as well as bringing its goods in.
We could look at many other aspects of public transport. I travel by train nearly every day from my constituency; indeed, I have travelled by train to London nearly every day for 33 years. I like to lead by example in that as in other respects! We must build rail capacity, and ensure that fares are right. The recent proposal to increase fares in order to deter train users strikes me as retrograde: I hope that the Government will invest heavily in both passenger and freight rail services, and that there will come a day when rail travel is much cheaper in relation to car travel than it is now. I hope that public transport will come into its own again.
Mr. Michael Weir (Angus): No one could accuse the motion of not being comprehensive. I was only surprised not to find, half way down, mention of mothers and apple pie. I must tell the Minister, however, that the phrase
"commends its drive to promote thriving rural economies and communities"
export of meat and livestock. Some 70,000 people in Scotland work in agriculture, about 40,000 of whom are owner-occupiers—although, interestingly, fewer than half of them now work full-time in agriculture. That is an indication of the change in agriculture in Scotland and, I am sure, in many other areas over the years. Farmers have had to find alternative sources of income to boost their agricultural income.
Last year the average annual farm income was just over £9,500 outside the area affected by foot and mouth; in that area, obviously, it was less than zero. There has been much talk today about farmers diversifying into other areas. They have been trying to do that for many years. In my area, for example, they have gone into the usual businesses—bed and breakfast, holiday cottages and more esoteric enterprises such as quad biking. Others have expressed interest in diversifying into green fuels by growing crops for biomass energy or biodiesel, although commercial uses for these may be some years off. As I said in an intervention on the hon. Member for Sherwood (Paddy Tipping), it is important that the plant should be up and running to encourage farmers to move into these areas. If not, it will be difficult to persuade them to do so, because of past problems. I remember one case in my constituency in which the great saviour of agriculture was to be the growing of flax. Many farmers invested in the crop but the plant that was supposed to process it never opened and many lost a great deal of money, so they will be reluctant to go into that area again.
Apart from diversification, most farmers want to be farmers. They are not racetrack operators or oil producers. They have made attempts to find new markets and niche markets for their agricultural produce. Many other right hon. and hon. Members have mentioned the growing number of farmers' markets throughout the country, but with the best will in the world, farmers' markets and direct selling cannot provide a big enough market for all farmers in the UK. The main purchasers of agricultural products are and will continue to be supermarkets. We cannot condemn this too much. After all, how many Members can truly say that they do not make the bulk of their food purchases at Sainsbury, Tesco or one of the other temples of mass consumerism? That is the rub that farming faces. How do we ensure that supermarkets do not use their huge economic power to push down the price paid to farmers? One effect of the European Community and free trade agreements is that supermarkets can source food from elsewhere in the world.
The Curry report, along with many others, talks about moving into organic produce and niche markets. Many have urged farmers to go organic to get a premium for their produce. That is fine in theory but how realistic would it be for the bulk of farmers to turn to organic produce. Do not get me wrong—I am in favour of organic produce. I seek it out, as I am sure many others do, and we accept that we have to pay a little more for it.
Some 50 per cent. of organic land in the UK is in Scotland. There has been an increase in the output of organic food in Scotland, but the UK market continues to be dominated by imports. If farmers attempt to go organic, the huge costs mean that it is some years before they can be fully organic. They find exactly the same
problems in dealing with supermarkets as do conventional farmers. The supermarkets use their huge economic power to push down the price they pay. They impose the same standards on organic produce as they do on conventional produce, so there can be much greater wastage in organic production. If organic production takes off to a large extent, it will inevitably mean that the premium will be gradually eroded and may indeed disappear altogether. Farmers could find themselves back in the same situation as they are in now, but with greater costs.
To get round this, we have to tackle the problem of how we deal with supermarkets. I asked the hon. Members for Lewes (Norman Baker) and for Nottingham, South (Alan Simpson) about this problem, because I do not see a ready solution to it. I hope that the Minister will say something about the Government's attitude. It is touched on in the report, but there is no real sense of how Governments will deal with the large supermarkets and ensure that they take a greater amount of organic and local produce.
There are real concerns about genetically modified foods, particularly the trials that are taking place. In an earlier intervention, I mentioned the British Medical Association's evidence to the Scottish Parliament. Quite rightly, there is some consumer resistance to eating genetically modified food, yet there is huge pressure from the producers of the seed and the substances that are put on it for farmers to move towards producing genetically modified foods. Almost alone among European Government, this Government seem determined to promote its use. Again, if it goes wrong, it will not be the supermarkets that suffer but the farmers, who may be left with contaminated fields. They will be the real losers.
The common agricultural policy has been mentioned. We are told that the European Commission is considering decoupling support from production, and that is also the thrust of what the Curry report said. That would bring an increase in modulation, leading to a projected 20 per cent. cut in support payments, but only payments of more than Euro5,000, which I am told is just over £3,000, will be modulated, so throughout Europe more than 60 per cent. of farmers will not be modulated. They are mainly small farmers in southern European countries, but only 9 per cent. of Scottish farmers would be exempt, which could cause a massive and unsustainable reduction in already low incomes. Experience shows that much of the support available will go to large landowners rather than rural communities.
Scottish farming is badly affected by the UK Government's reluctance to draw on European compensation funds, allegedly because matching funds are required. The decision not to seek agrimonetary compensation will lose Scottish growers more than £11 million over the next two to three years.
The question of how a rural community is defined has also been touched on. There is no mention of fishing in the motion, although the Secretary of State referred to it. Many rural communities in the north and east Scotland rely on fishing. If the current proposals from the European Commission are allowed to proceed in anything like their current form, it will spell disaster for rural Scotland.
The Scottish Executive have estimated that 44,000 jobs in Scotland are dependent on fishing. Many of those are in rural areas where there is little other employment, especially given the recent difficulties with agriculture. If fishing goes, many of our small rural communities may well go with it. The European Commissioner said that the industry will not be expected to bear the burden alone and hinted that there will be decommissioning schemes and compensation. That is all very well, and will help those who are currently in the industry, but it will not help the communities that rely on fishing, because there will not be jobs in the future. Money may be available—I expect that in Scotland much of it will have to come from the Executive—but it will not secure the future of those communities. Drastic economic decline could follow. That is no way to
"promote thriving rural economies and communities".
The hon. Member for Lewes rightly mentioned animal transportation. Few of us would be against controls on the transport of live animals, but I urge Ministers to bear in mind the specific problems for many remote rural areas, and island communities in particular, if too tight a definition is applied. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, many local abattoirs were closed, meaning that in many communities animals have to travel substantial distances for slaughter.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Mr. Elliot Morley): I want to give the hon. Gentleman two reassurances. First, I understand the problems of the fishing industry and the pressure on fishing communities, and that will be reflected in the policies that we advocate next week. Secondly, we will always argue for a derogation of rules on animal transportation for remote and offshore communities.
The motion refers to green technologies. Scotland has great potential for wave and tidal power, but much of it is in the north and the west, where there is no ready access to the national grid. One of the problems is that the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is responsible for environmental matters, but the Department of Trade and Industry is responsible for many energy matters. Often, there is no link between the two. Ministers must look at ways in which investment can be put into the national grid, in order to extend it to those very areas where wave and tidal power systems can be set up.
Mr. John Grogan (Selby): In view of the time, and fortified by the British beef sandwich that I had for lunch, with apple pie for pudding, I want to make just three brief points on three different aspects of British agriculture and rural life. First, I want to touch on the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Newport, West (Paul Flynn) about tenant farmers. Secondly, I want to touch on horticulture, an issue that the right hon. Member for Fylde (Mr. Jack) dealt with in some detail. In particular, I want to bring news to the House of November's national conference of cucumber growers, and to give to the Minister a couple of ideas
that emerged from it. Thirdly, I want to touch on biofuels and particularly bioenergy, which was mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Sherwood (Paddy Tipping) and many others.
The problems of full-time tenant farmers, particularly those on marginal land, are highly specific. The Tenant Farmers Association estimates that perhaps 2,000 farmers are hanging on by their fingertips. They are too poor to retire because they have nowhere to go to live, their land is marginal and they have no asset to sell. Indeed, several tenant farmers in my constituency who came to see me recently said, "What are the Government doing about their manifesto promise to provide a retirement scheme—an outgoers scheme—for farmers?" I said, "Come back next month, and in the meantime I will research the issue."
I asked my researcher to look at our manifesto to see what commitments we made on British agriculture and fishing. He consulted the House of Commons Library, and I returned to the farmers with another piece of paper saying that no such commitment was made in the Labour manifesto under the section on British agriculture. An elderly Yorkshire farmer looked at me and said, "Yes lad, you're right: no such commitment was made under the section on British agriculture, but look at the section above, on British rural life." It has to be admitted that reference was made to outgoers schemes and early retirement schemes, particularly in relation to foot and mouth. Indeed, such commitments were made in the manifestos of both main parties.
The Curry commission looked at this proposal on value-for-money grounds, and rejected it. I urge the Government to consider what we can do for tenant farmers. There are difficulties in targeting a scheme at tenant farmers—the Tenant Farmers Association has come up with a scheme that would cost £25 million a year—but I urge the Government, and, indeed, other political parties, to consider the problems of tenant farmers in particular. We need to consider not just those who would do best to leave the industry—indeed, it would help to consolidate the industry if they did so—but those who want to continue to make a living, and who find it more difficult to access grants for diversification than do owner-occupiers, because they have the status of tenant.
The right hon. Member for Fylde has mentioned Horticulture Research International. Stockbridge house, in my constituency—the Minister has visited it—is a world-renowned horticultural research centre. To be frank, the best thing that happened to it was the announcement of its closure, in 2000, by HRI. That forced Stockbridge house and many local stakeholders to get together to establish a scheme—with no Government subsidy whatsoever—to buy the site, in order to continue the valuable practical research that takes place there. Now, as we have heard, there is a question mark over the entire future of HRI.
I want to mention two particular issues in which Stockbridge house is involved, and which have wider resonance in the industry. An article in the most recent edition of The Commercial Greenhouse Grower refers to the problems of combined heat and power in the
industry. Many horticulturalists have invested in this particular form of energy, which is suited to the industry. The article states:
"Moves by combined heat and power supplier Nedalo UK to switch off CHP plants on horticultural sites has left major growers across the country uncertain about how they will heat their new-season crops."
That development—the company is a subsidiary of TXU—reflects the recent problems with CHP, which have resulted from the increase in gas prices and the decline in electricity prices. I hope that, after Christmas, the Government will review the matter in their energy policy.
The Horticultural Development Council has agreed to fund a practical idea proposed by the cucumber growers—a new technology demonstration project at Stockbridge house. To meet pressure from retailers the growers need to produce all year round, and that can be simply achieved by installing extra lighting during the winter months. The cucumber growers have stumped up some money for the research—as has the HDC—and only a small amount is required from DEFRA. It could help CHP production because some of the energy from a CHP plant could go into that extra winter lighting and there would be no need sell electricity into the national grid.
A further suggestion from the cucumber growers would help to reduce red tape. Many horticulturalists face the fact that in future they will be unable to use pesticides that they used formerly. Part of the solution might be the biologicals, which are an important range of products, including fungus spores, pheromones, and natural plant or fungus toxins. They can control fungal diseases as well as attacks by some insects without leaving residues. Unfortunately, at present the authorities treat them as though they were chemical pesticides, so some of the small companies that are trying to market those biological products face costs of more than £300,000.
May I urge Ministers to look into ways of reducing the red tape in respect of such projects? For example, in this country, we are leading users of predatory insects for pest control, especially in the cultivation under glass of cucumbers, tomatoes and peppers. Such means are now being used worldwide and Stockbridge house is the centre of research. As there are no registration requirements for the use of predatory insects, massive strides can be made in the research.
On biofuels and bioenergy, I support the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Sherwood and others who said that 20p a litre is welcome but it is probably not quite enough to accelerate the use of biofuels as much as we want. The Country Land and Business Association suggests a 10 per cent. target for renewable fuels for road transport by 2010. That is one way in which progress might be made.
I draw the attention of the House to an example of the use of bioenergy in my constituency. I think that my hon. Friend the Minister may have visited the Arbre project at Eggborough, which is a revolutionary demonstration plant for wood burning. Fifty farmers signed 20-year contracts to supply the plant. It was difficult to persuade farmers to diversify in that way and great efforts had to be made before they would do so. It took three or four years to get the farmers to sign up.
Earlier this year, the owners of the plant decided to close it. Fortunately, however, due to the efforts of the Government, especially the Department for Trade and Industry and DEFRA, and the European Union, there is every prospect that the plant will be rescued soon after Christmas. I understand that there are four prospective buyers.
When farmers are persuaded to grow alternative crops and when demonstration plants are set up, it is vital that we see the projects through. I very much hope that there will be good news about Arbre during the next few months and that the plant, supported by the Government and the EU, will go into full production some time next year.
It is a pleasure to have an opportunity to contribute to what has been an engaging debate. There has been a great deal of consensus on many issues. The hon. Member for Newport, West (Paul Flynn) told us that he was speaking in an agriculture debate in the House for the first time. Although some hon. Members did not welcome the hon. Gentleman's contribution, I did. He presented a challenging opinion and his views should be addressed by those people who present themselves—as do the Government—as the champion of farmers and of the countryside.
I fear, however, that the hon. Gentleman was fighting old battles. He compared steelworkers with farmers and argued that there was a dependency culture in the agriculture industry that had never existed in the steel industry. If he had heard the whole debate, he would have realised that there is cross-party agreement that we should be moving away from production supports, as the hon. Member for Selby (Mr. Grogan) pointed out in a very good speech.
The hon. Member for South-East Cambridgeshire (Mr. Paice), who is no longer in his place, made some challenging points. He was perhaps unnecessarily critical of the previous Minister of Agriculture, the right hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, East and Wallsend (Mr. Brown), whom, I think, he described as clueless at one point. During the foot and mouth outbreak, particularly in the early days, I found that there was a parallel human disease, which I described as the benefit of hindsight disease, the symptoms of which were brass neck and short-term memory loss.
In fact, during the very early days of that outbreak, the whole House agreed with the plans put in place by the right hon. Gentleman, who acted very quickly at that stage. The criticisms were made only with the benefit of hindsight, when it became easy to do so. Of course we can all make mistakes and we can learn from them, but there was an unnecessary assassination of the Minister's character at that time.
I would say, perhaps with the benefit of foresight, that the Government have an unwritten farming policy, which they sometimes describe as restructuring. Perhaps the cat was let out of the bag by the hon. Member for Sherwood (Paddy Tipping), who is now back in his place. Frankly, the aim is to get rid of small farmers to a large extent. Although the NFU and the Govt have regretted the fact that 15,000 farm workers left the
industry last year—a larger number than at any time since the second world war—they want that level of restructuring to take place in the industry, and the removal of a large number of farmers from the industry is part of that plan. I do not doubt that they quietly welcome that situation.
The right hon. Member for Fylde (Mr. Jack), who is no longer in his place, made a number of telling points, with which I agree, in relation to the Government's rather slothful, maqana approach in response to the Curry commission's report. He certainly endorsed a view that my constituents and I have about the Whitehall mentality. My constituents view Whitehall and Westminster as rather remote and insular places, where the pace of life is extremely slow. Perhaps if people looked at rural areas from the other end of the telescope, they might get a different impression of the culture that exists here.
Farm-gate prices was a theme pursued by many hon. Members during the debate. Of course it is extremely difficult to draw a decent comparison between what happened 50 years ago, when the basic raw materials were put on retailers' shelves, and what happens now, when so much food is processed. However, it is clear that the proportion of the final retail price that farmers receive is considerably smaller than many decades ago. We can be sure of that because if it were the other way round the processors and retailers would be telling us about it.
The code of practice, which pays lip service to that issue, has no real teeth at all. Although the Government's response suggests that the Office of Fair Trading will issue reports regularly, what will happen when processors and supermarkets do not abide with the rulings under that code of practice? They will face no sanction.
With regard to the collaborative ventures under recommendation 8 of the farm plan, are the Government saying that they regret breaking up Milk Marque? In effect, they are saying that farmers should co-operate, but the fact that they broke up Milk Marque only a few years ago made it much more difficult for farmers to co-operate at the level needed to compete in the international market.
With regard to recommendation 2 about farmers getting the benefit of receiving their support payments in the euro, reference is made to putting in place a computer that will allow that to come online late in 2004—once again, the maqana attitude mentioned by the right hon. Member for Fylde. In fact, the Prime Minister brought in the euro compatibility exercise in February 1999. What consideration did the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and its predecessor Departments give to euro compatibility to ensure that farmers were getting the benefit of euro payments before today, let alone waiting a further two years for the benefit of that measure? Surely we need to do a great deal more as far as that is concerned.
The Secretary of State mentioned several matters to which I do not have time to refer, as other hon. Members want to speak, but it is clear that the Department is not just a champion for the environment; it should also be a champion for rural areas. In relation to the White Paper, I question whether the Department is talking to other responsible Departments. On rural housing, for
example, the 50 per cent council tax rebate on second homes has not been removed, which we were expecting and which was originally proposed in the White Paper. There is no serious attempt to address the need for a twilight market somewhere between social housing and the open market, as there is a clear mismatch between earnings levels and house prices in many rural areas.
The key issues facing rural areas are those relating to the mid-term review of the common agricultural policy, and as the Minister will know well, those relating to the important debate that will take place in Europe next week on the future catch in the fishing industry. On the CAP, I urge that we do not allow a situation to emerge in which we simply turn the countryside into prairie and ranch and move from blue-box to green-box subsidies, as the right hon. Member for Skipton and Ripon (Mr. Curry) said. That recognises, as perhaps the hon. Member for Newport, West did not, that the factory floor of farming is a place about which we all care. We walk across and have recreation in that area, and farmers should be properly paid to fulfil an important role in that regard.
Next week, the Minister has some important negotiations on fishing quotas. I hope that he will listen to the industry, whose response to the current crisis has been very responsible, as he must accept. Quotas will have to be cut in certain areas, but there are ways, using tactical and other measures, of avoiding absolute catastrophe, which will otherwise occur across many coastal areas of Britain.
Hugh Robertson (Faversham and Mid-Kent): I had hoped to speak in this debate as someone who has a long-standing interest in the environment and in agriculture, and, more narrowly, as a constituency MP representing one of the few seats in which fruit farming predominates.
I grew up in the area that I represent—I was born and educated there, and have lived there all my life—and it means a great deal to me. As a result, I believe that fruit farming is something that we all ought to support. It is wholly unsubsidised, it produces high-quality produce close to the marketplace, and it is extremely good for the environment. It is therefore, in many ways, a model for the kind of agriculture that we, as a country, should be looking to support.
At the moment, however, the future looks pretty bleak, and the stakes are extremely high. On DEFRA's figures, given to me in a written answer a couple of weeks ago, 10.9 per cent. of the national orchard has been grubbed in the last three years. That is a staggering amount, and were it to happen anywhere else, it would be a national scandal.
What is going wrong? A number of difficulties are wholly outside the Government's control, and I will not go through them all. Many imports are coming into the country, supermarkets have enormous power over the market and the changes to the UK climate clearly affect growers enormously. Their falling revenues have hindered their ability to reinvest.
have let growers off the environmental impact assessment, allowing orchards out of its clauses, and they have stalled negotiations on the EU marketing standard, and that has been of enormous use. The Government have also increased the number of workers allowed in under the seasonal agricultural workers scheme to 25,000 and they have given growers a rebate on the climate change levy. That has been of enormous value.
However, there is great concern about the activities of the Agricultural Wages Board. No one in the fruit-growing industry would dispute the headline rate, but the changes that have been made to the casual workers rate are estimated to add about 14 per cent. to the bill of the average grower. In an industry in which between 40 and 60 per cent. of the cost base is down to payment to workers, that is an enormous hike.
I want to say a few words about Horticulture Research International—hon. Members on both sides of the House have touched on that. It is most unlikely that horticulture and the fruit-farming sector can continue to develop as we would wish without a proper research base. HRI is recognised across the globe for its excellence, and the quinquennial review has asked that DEFRA guarantees 40 per cent. core funding in research stations. When the review is completed in January, I hope that the Minister will take note of that.
Time is short, so I shall quickly stress that we should all support the fruit-farming sector. It is unsubsidised, it produces high-quality food close to the marketplace and it is good for the environment. The growers whom I represent want nothing more than to run their farms as small businesses, free from regulation and with an achievable long-term vision for the future of horticulture. I hope that DEFRA will be able to help them to achieve that.
Mr. John Hayes (South Holland and The Deepings): This has been a vital, thoughtful and disturbing debate. It has been vital, because rural Britain is vitally important as the home and place of work of millions of Britons and because the countryside is, in my estimation and that of Members on both sides of the House, the brightest national jewel.
Although we have not heard this in the debate, it has become fashionable to underplay the economic significance of agriculture and horticulture. To do that when one considers the 500,000 people employed in those sectors is neglectful. To do so mindful of the wider affects of farming and growing is irresponsible. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Fylde (Mr. Jack) pointed out, without viable agriculture there can be no viable countryside.
The debate has been thoughtful as well as vital, because Members have made clear, well-informed and incisive points. The debate has been characterised by good information and a lack of rancour. There was clarity from the hon. Member for Braintree (Mr. Hurst), who talked about the need for imports to conform to the same standards as home-produced products. In particular, he referred to poultry and turkeys, and he will know both that turkey production in this country has virtually halved and of the competition that comes from countries such as Brazil. We are raising turkeys in
Britain and doing so very efficiently but our turkey farmers have to compete with people from south America, Africa and further afield. The hon. Gentleman was right to raise those important points and to defend that important industry.
There was clarity, too, from the hon. Member for Monmouth (Mr. Edwards), who talked about the damage caused to the livestock industry by the 20-day rule and described the ongoing problems that are faced in that respect. His commitment to his farmers was well illustrated by the forceful way in which he argued his case.
We had information on horticulture and particularly on horticultural research from my right hon. Friend the Member for Fylde. He and I share a profound concern for the subject. We also had information on integrated crop management from the Chairman of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, my right hon. Friend the Member for Skipton and Ripon (Mr. Curry). In a well-made point, he was right to say that the benefits of such an approach can find form more quickly than is often imagined.
We had incisiveness from the hon. Member for Nottingham, South (Alan Simpson), who talked about labelling, liability and food localism. He made a compelling case for reconnecting the consumer with the producer and so shortening the food chain. The hon. Member for Luton, North (Mr. Hopkins) was an ally of those of us who recognise that the common fisheries policy has been a disaster for the sustainability of fishing communities and for conservation. The debate was also thoughtful because of the recognition by hon. Members on both sides of the Chamber that we need to think long and hard about the future of farming and its relationship with the rural economy and society at large.
The hon. Member for Sherwood (Paddy Tipping), who, like me, has for many years enjoyed participating in long debates on such matters which have gone into the night, spoke about the "consensus for change" and the need to consider the issues in a thorough and non-partisan way. My right hon. Friend the Member for Fylde—I do not want to keep referring to him in case he thinks he has become my mentor—said that farming is a cultural issue that extends beyond pure economics. He explained that there is something deeper to it, and he is right. It is about what we value and prize; about defining our obligations as custodians of a rural and natural heritage; about the legacy that we wish to pass on to the next generation; and about the investment that farmers make in that heritage and legacy.
Some would say that I am being excessively romantic. If so, I plead guilty. A passionate romantic attachment to that which is beyond the narrowly material is the prerequisite of vision. The absence of vision on the part of the Secretary of State and Ministers has made the debate—in addition to vital and thoughtful—disturbing. As hon. Members repeatedly said, the Secretary of State's speech lacked passion. It was as though she was going through the motions. However, I do not want to be unkind or ungenerous because I am not an unkind or ungenerous person, as the House knows. The Curry report is important. It was limited by
time and resources, but it is a useful start none the less. The Government's response is better than nothing. However, as Curry said:
"Partial support is not acceptable without funding, we will not achieve the refocusing that is needed unless the report is adopted in full."
Some things are welcome: the help with small regional producers; the improvements in competitiveness and marketing, which are an ambition of Government policy; and a serious look at entry-level stewardship. There is some recognition of what my hon. Friend the Member for South-East Cambridgeshire (Mr. Paice) highlighted as the link between food and farming, that vital connection which cannot be ignored in Government policy or our debates.
There are significant gaps, however. We need to take seriously a policy that allows our farmers to add value to their products by developing processing capacity, so improving their opportunities to make a good and decent living. For example, the dairy industry in most other countries is able to add value because the producers have processing capacity. In this country, processing capacity is focused on a few enterprises and that opportunity does not exist. The Government need to assist in that.
We also need a real commitment to deal with the burden of regulation. We also need serious investment and an appreciation of the value of food. Perhaps most of all, however, we need an acceptance that the relationship between retailers and producers—the shortening of the food chain, as it has been described—will be taken seriously. My hon. Friend the Member for West Derbyshire (Mr. McLoughlin) and other hon. Members on both sides of the House made that point. Frankly, the Government's comments on shortening the food chain are weak as water. They talk about
"actively encouraging retailers . . . to apply the principles and practices set out in the code on a voluntary basis."
As my right hon. Friend the Member for Fylde said, that is not sufficient to restore producers' faith in a Government who need to do an awful lot to restore farmers' and growers' faith in them. We must face up to the disproportionate effect that a few retailers have had on the food chain. Rebalancing should be a priority—it is not fair to let a commercially capricious retail sector put the kind of pressure on producers that it is putting on them at the moment.
As I have said, there is a lack of vision and strategy. There is no business plan for farming and growing in this country or, to use the Secretary of State's words in response to an early intervention, no feeling for an appropriate number of producers or level of production. We do not ask for precision, but any business plan or strategy would take a notional view of which sectors will be productive, and how many producers there will be over the next year or five years. We cannot ask our farmers and growers to develop business plans if the Government do not provide them with leadership or a sense of direction.
There should be a balance sheet for agriculture and horticulture which measures their social, economic and cultural effects. It is not unreasonable to ask DEFRA to introduce such a cost-benefit analysis and for it to be
debated and discussed. Such an analysis should be dynamic and produced regularly—not an unreasonable request from the industry or Conservative Members—and should be based on the partnership approach identified by my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Lidington) in his stimulating and apposite analysis of the Government's response to Curry. That approach would reinvest in faith, making farmers and growers believe that the Government care, but would also achieve coherence and co-ordination between various schemes and their management by Government agencies. This lack of coherence and co-ordination was identified by my right hon. Friend the Member for Skipton and Ripon and is exemplified by the incompatibility of the IT systems of the Rural Payments Agency with those of DEFRA, and the ensuing confusion that has caused misery to livestock farmers and others throughout the country.
We need an understanding of the problem. The long-term fall in commodity prices is seemingly inexorable, and for many years farmers' share of the retail price of food has declined, as my hon. Friend the Member for West Derbyshire pointed out—what a champion of the farmers of Derbyshire he is and has always been. Through no fault of their own, British farmers' purchasing power has fallen relative not only to general inflation but, as Members know, to inflation in key agricultural inputs, undermining their capacity to invest in improvements. Falling incomes and rising costs are the cutting blades of the so-called agrarian scissors and are the only meaningful context in which debate can take place. Without addressing the key issue of farm income, anything that we may hope to achieve environmentally, socially or culturally is impossible.
Whatever the vision of the hon. Member for Newport, West (Paul Flynn), who clearly lives in a different world to the one occupied by the majority of hon. Members, farming is the force that shapes four fifths of Britain's land area. There is no conceivable alternative that could provide the same coverage, but without sustainable incomes farming will cease to be viable in the greater part of this land. The only sustainable agricultural policy is one that identifies and counteracts the power behind the agrarian scissors—excess production and the payments associated with it. Frankly, farmers have been trapped in a system of production subsidies that provides perverse incentives for the commodification of agriculture when almost all other industries in this country have prospered by producing ever more sophisticated goods and services, adding value to them, and marketing them on the basis of quality.
We need better alternatives: payments that provide sustainable farm incomes and serve as an incentive to environmental good practice as an integral part of marketing food production. Those are important challenges, but they must be seen in the context of real difficulties and problems. In their response to Curry, the Government could bring themselves to acknowledge only challenges. Unlike the hon. Member for Sherwood, they would not say that there was a crisis, and less still that that crisis was as wide-ranging and deep as it has been in agriculture at any time since the 1930s. The hon. Member for St. Ives (Andrew George) spoke of 67,000 people leaving the industry over the past five years.
There are hon. Members of all parties who care about agriculture, horticulture and the countryside. I do not deny that for a second, but there is only one party that has rural Britain at its heart and soul. That is the Conservative party. We will be unfailing in our determination to fight for British food and farming, unstinting in our efforts to ensure that our farmers can compete on a level playing field, and unhesitating in our protection of our rich environmental heritage. We will always be ready to be the proud and passionate champions of the interests of rural Britain.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Mr. Elliot Morley): There has been a good standard of debate in today's opportunity to discuss the range of work that the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs does and the range of responsibilities that it has. There were thoughtful contributions from the hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Lidington), the hon. Member for Lewes (Norman Baker), my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, South (Alan Simpson), the right hon. Member for Fylde (Mr. Jack), my hon. Friend the Member for Braintree (Mr. Hurst), the right hon. Member for Skipton and Ripon (Mr. Curry), my hon. Friend the Member for Newport, West (Paul Flynn), who expressed his traditional robust views, the hon. Member for South-East Cambridgeshire (Mr. Paice), my hon. Friend the Member for Monmouth (Mr. Edwards), who expressed equally robust views in defence of his farmers and the rural community, the hon. Member for West Derbyshire (Mr. McLoughlin), my hon. Friend the Member for Luton, North (Mr. Hopkins), the hon. Member for Angus (Mr. Weir), my hon. Friend the Member for Selby (Mr. Grogan), the hon. Member for St. Ives (Andrew George), the hon. Member for Faversham and Mid-Kent (Hugh Robertson), and not least the hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Mr. Hayes).
One or two hon. Members referred to this as an agriculture debate, but it was not. It was intended to recognise the role of DEFRA and the Department's new responsibilities. The motion is so wide ranging as to enable hon. Members to speak about those issues, as my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, South did when he took the opportunity to speak about genetically modified crops. The motion is in no way self-congratulatory. Our priority is to deliver and to seek to improve on the delivery of services and commitments that we have made. That is why, incidentally, DEFRA appointed Lord Haskins to carry out a review of our agencies and consider ways of improving the delivery of our services; and why DEFRA set up the food and farming commission and presented a detailed response to the commission today, which received a broad welcome from right hon. and hon. Members.
I acknowledge that most of the speeches were balanced. In general, the setting up of DEFRA was welcomed, particularly by the hon. Member for Lewes. There is a consensus on the need to reform the common agricultural policy, and recognition of the commitment that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has demonstrated, and which my ministerial colleagues and I share, to promote sustainable development across the
whole of Government, and not just within DEFRA. We are not complacent about such matters, and we recognise that there are issues on which we must concentrate to ensure the delivery of sustainability.
We recognise the need to ensure that all our delivery systems are efficient. I accept some of the criticism from hon. Members, especially in respect of the Rural Payments Agency. There has been a problem with computer compatibility. The Department is only 18 months old, and these are matters on which further work is necessary. In our spending programmes, we have committed substantial sums for IT upgrades and improvements, which will improve the service to farmers. However, we have made good progress in a short period.
The hon. Member for Lewes mentioned turnover in DEFRA. The latest figures, which might interest him, show that from 1 January 2002 to 31 May 2002 turnover was 2.8 per cent., which is not unreasonable in a Department the size of DEFRA. The figures relate to overall turnover. Turnover may be higher in some lower grades, but the employment of many temporary and agency staff partly accounts for that. The figures demonstrate that morale in the Department is good and is improving. It is a privilege to serve with the dedicated staff whom we have in all parts of DEFRA—especially those who joined us from the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions.
Sue Doughty: I thank the Minister for giving way. I am concerned about morale in the information technology department in Guildford, as proposals to outsource the department risk losing a tremendous amount of flexibility and expertise. They may mean that not all of DEFRA is quite as happy as he would want us to think.
Mr. Morley: I appreciate the hon. Lady's point, but she will also appreciate that, in order to ensure improvements in service and cost-effective delivery, we have to examine a range of options. Of course, we are consulting the trade unions and those involved will be kept informed of the progress of those talks.
I should like to repeat the comments that I made when the hon. Member for South-East Cambridgeshire spoke about my right hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, East and Wallsend (Mr. Brown), now the Minister for Work. I do not think that his comments were justified. The foot and mouth epidemic was a time of great stress for all concerned, with farmers and others trying to deal with the epidemic. The efforts of my right hon. Friend were widely recognised and appreciated at the time, as many Opposition Members have pointed out.
We have backed up our response to the food and farming commission with the allocation of £500 million over three years. That is intended to allow the comprehensive proposals to be implemented. As hon. Members have pointed out, there have been changes in agricultural employment in recent years and a decline in the number of farms and farm workers. There is nothing new about that; it has been going on since the 1930s. However, every rural constituency has unemployment levels that are at a 25-year low. The right hon. Member for Fylde raised the issue of unemployment, but I notice
that unemployment in his constituency has fallen by about 21 per cent. since 1997. That has happened throughout rural communities.
In this wide-ranging debate, nobody seems to have mentioned the pig sector, which is very significant in my constituency. Will the Minister take on board the imminent welfare directive, which France is apparently not going to implement until 2013, the problem of sow infertility in the herd, which needs urgent research, and also the question of pig identification? If pig identification is needed—many think that it is not—it must be implemented very sensitively.
Mr. Morley: I recognise that my hon. Friend is a great champion of pigs and I shall certainly take those points on board. The Department has committed considerable sums to investigation of the pig-wasting disease. Sow infertility is part of that. We are talking with the industry about how to use the money most efficiently and are reviewing the pig identification rules. On welfare directives, I assure him that we expect to do things at the same time as other European countries. We also expect European countries to apply the measures in the same way as we will, including measures in respect of pigs.
We recognise that bovine TB is a major issue, and we have already introduced a package of measures and are considering further ones. Mention was also made of the 20-day movement restriction, which is under review, but is very important in terms of disease control.
Change is not always comfortable, but the Department is providing leadership and support. As was pointed out, a great deal of change must come from the industry itself. We do not have a command-and-control economy. While we can provide support in helping farmers to get closer to the market—the main thrust of the Curry report—a great deal of what happens must come from them.
I also recognise that very good points were made by the right hon. Member for Skipton and Ripon, who spoke about the need for value for money in the proposed new broad and shallow schemes and in entry-level agri-environment schemes. He also spoke about a market for environmental goods, which is worth exploring, support for integrated crop management and the use of agri-environment schemes for other purposes, such as pollution control. These are all sensible suggestions that are worth considering in some detail.
issues in relation to diet, consumption of vegetables and other matters that I do not think Members would find controversial.
Many Members have said that the CAP is not delivering to farmers in respect of their incomes and that there is a need for change. I can tell the right hon. Member for Fylde that, in relation to the mid-term review, market change, decoupling and modulation will be discussed at the summit. I think that there is agreement on market change. There is also strong agreement on decoupling. Modulation is a much more complex issue. Some of the Commission's proposals are not exactly to the benefit of the United Kingdom. Nevertheless, modulation is an important issue and one for which we shall continue to press.
As for Horticulture Research International, we are considering responses following public consultation. We shall announce our decision early in the new year. We recognise that it is important that people know the future of HRI. We want to support research and development in the horticultural sector. I recognise that it is unsupported and we want to play our role in supporting the sector.
I turn to some of the environmental issues. DEFRA champions sustainability across government. We have demonstrated that with our green Ministers' network and our links with other Departments. We recognise that we need to do more, but we can point to real achievements on the environmental front. Not least, we can take some pride in our leadership on climate change, which has been fully integrated throughout government right to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, who has played an active role. There has been success also at the Bonn and Marrakesh meetings. That was achieved by my right hon. Friends the Secretary of State and the Minister for the Environment. That has laid the foundations for the implementation of the climate change agreement at Kyoto. It was a great success, and the UK had a leading role.
We have worked and co-operated with Departments such as the Department for International Development on sustainable forestry. I understand that sometimes there are problems in trying to source timber from sustainable sources. There are weaknesses and problems with certification. However, the UK was the first G8 country to embrace a policy for the procurement of timber from sustainable sources. I am glad to say that due to our success at the meeting of the convention on international trade in endangered species, where we managed to get mahogany uplifted to appendix 2, it will be a great deal easier to ensure that the timber that we procure has come from properly certified sources. That success was the result of working with the Foreign Office, the Home Office, Customs and Excise, DFID, the Joint Nature Conservation Committee and, of course, non-governmental organisations.
We had success at Doha, especially on non-trade issues, which are important in terms of welfare and environmental issues that are connected with farming. There has been success in raising water quality standards in this country. DEFRA had success in
working across government, including the involvement of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister at the world summit on sustainable development. We led the way on the agreement on water and sanitation. That is valuable in terms of international development and an example of where the Department has been leading from the front.
Mr. Morley: We work and co-ordinate matters with the Department of Transport. In his recent statement, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport announced one of the biggest ever public transport schemes in Manchester.
DEFRA is a new Department that continues to develop. Our achievements are already internationally recognised. We are making progress and I am proud of our achievements so far, and of those that we shall make in future.
Division No. 23
Ainsworth, Peter (E Surrey)
Ancram, rh Michael
Atkinson, David (Bour'mth E)
Atkinson, Peter (Hexham)
Baron, John (Billericay)
Beith, rh A. J.
Bottomley, rh Virginia (SW Surrey)
Brooke, Mrs Annette L.
Browning, Mrs Angela
Calton, Mrs Patsy
Chapman, Sir Sydney (Chipping Barnet)
Clarke, rh Kenneth (Rushcliffe)
Cormack, Sir Patrick
Curry, rh David
Davey, Edward (Kingston)
Davis, rh David (Haltemprice & Howden)
Duncan, Alan (Rutland)
Field, Mark (Cities of London & Westminster)
Forth, rh Eric
Foster, Don (Bath)
Fox, Dr. Liam
Gale, Roger (N Thanet)
Garnier, hon. Edward
George, Andrew (St. Ives)
Gillan, Mrs Cheryl
Gray, James (N Wilts)
Green, Damian (Ashford)
Green, Matthew (Ludlow)
Gummer, rh John
Hague, rh William
Hayes, John (S Holland)
Heathcoat-Amory, rh David
Hoban, Mark (Fareham)
Horam, John (Orpington)
Howarth, Gerald (Aldershot)
Hughes, Simon (Southwark N)
Jack, rh Michael
Key, Robert (Salisbury)
Laing, Mrs Eleanor
Lait, Mrs Jacqui
Laws, David (Yeovil)
Lewis, Dr. Julian (New Forest E)
Lilley, rh Peter
McIntosh, Miss Anne
Maclean, rh David
Mawhinney, rh Sir Brian
Mitchell, Andrew (Sutton Coldfield)
Murrison, Dr. Andrew
O'Brien, Stephen (Eddisbury)
Osborne, George (Tatton)
Price, Adam (E Carmarthen & Dinefwr)
Prisk, Mark (Hertford)
Pugh, Dr. John
Redwood, rh John
Reid, Alan (Argyll & Bute)
Robertson, Hugh (Faversham & M-Kent)
Roe, Mrs Marion
Russell, Bob (Colchester)
Shephard, rh Mrs Gillian
Spicer, Sir Michael
Spink, Bob (Castle Point)
Stanley, rh Sir John
Tapsell, Sir Peter
Taylor, Ian (Esher)
Taylor, Sir Teddy
Thomas, Simon (Ceredigion)
Tonge, Dr. Jenny
Turner, Andrew (Isle of Wight)
Tyler, Paul (N Cornwall)
Widdecombe, rh Miss Ann
Williams, Hywel (Caernarfon)
Williams, Roger (Brecon)
Winterton, Ann (Congleton)
Winterton, Sir Nicholas (Macclesfield)
Yeo, Tim (S Suffolk)
Young, rh Sir George
Tellers for the Ayes:
Angela Watkinson and
Mr. Mark Francois
Abbott, Ms Diane
Ainsworth, Bob (Cov'try NE)
Anderson, rh Donald (Swansea E)
Barron, rh Kevin
Beckett, rh Margaret
Benton, Joe (Bootle)
Blears, Ms Hazel
Brown, rh Nicholas (Newcastle E Wallsend)
Byers, rh Stephen
Campbell, Alan (Tynemouth)
Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge)
Cawsey, Ian (Brigg)
Chapman, Ben (Wirral S)
Clark, Mrs Helen (Peterborough)
Clark, Paul (Gillingham)
Clarke, rh Tom (Coatbridge & Chryston)
Clwyd, Ann (Cynon V)
Coffey, Ms Ann
Cox, Tom (Tooting)
Cryer, John (Hornchurch)
Davey, Valerie (Bristol W)
Davis, rh Terry (B'ham Hodge H)
Denham, rh John
Dobbin, Jim (Heywood)
Dobson, rh Frank
Dowd, Jim (Lewisham W)
Drown, Ms Julia
Eagle, Maria (L'pool Garston)
Ennis, Jeff (Barnsley E)
Field, rh Frank (Birkenhead)
Flynn, Paul (Newport W)
Foster, Michael Jabez (Hastings & Rye)
Foulkes, rh George
Francis, Dr. Hywel
Gapes, Mike (Ilford S)
George, rh Bruce (Walsall S)
Gibson, Dr. Ian
Griffiths, Jane (Reading E)
Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)
Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)
Hall, Mike (Weaver Vale)
Hamilton, Fabian (Leeds NE)
Havard, Dai (Merthyr Tydfil & Rhymney)
Henderson, Doug (Newcastle N)
Hewitt, rh Ms Patricia
Hill, Keith (Streatham)
Hoey, Kate (Vauxhall)
Hood, Jimmy (Clydesdale)
Hoon, rh Geoffrey
Hope, Phil (Corby)
Hughes, Beverley (Stretford & Urmston)
Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N)
Hurst, Alan (Braintree)
Hutton, rh John
Iddon, Dr. Brian
Jackson, Glenda (Hampstead & Highgate)
Jackson, Helen (Hillsborough)
Johnson, Miss Melanie (Welwyn Hatfield)
Jones, Jon Owen (Cardiff C)
Jones, Kevan (N Durham)
Jones, Lynne (Selly Oak)
Jowell, rh Tessa
Joyce, Eric (Falkirk W)
Keeble, Ms Sally
Keen, Ann (Brentford)
Kelly, Ruth (Bolton W)
Khabra, Piara S.
Knight, Jim (S Dorset)
Ladyman, Dr. Stephen
Laxton, Bob (Derby N)
Levitt, Tom (High Peak)
Lloyd, Tony (Manchester C)
Lyons, John (Strathkelvin)
McCartney, rh Ian
McGuire, Mrs Anne
Mandelson, rh Peter
Mann, John (Bassetlaw)
Marsden, Gordon (Blackpool S)
Marshall, David (Glasgow Shettleston)
Meacher, rh Michael
Michael, rh Alun
Munn, Ms Meg
Murphy, Jim (Eastwood)
Naysmith, Dr. Doug
Norris, Dan (Wansdyke)
O'Brien, Bill (Normanton)
Osborne, Sandra (Ayr)
Palmer, Dr. Nick
Pike, Peter (Burnley)
Pond, Chris (Gravesham)
Prentice, Gordon (Pendle)
Primarolo, rh Dawn
Raynsford, rh Nick
Robertson, John (Glasgow Anniesland)
Roche, Mrs Barbara
Shipley, Ms Debra
Simon, Sitn (B'ham Erdington)
Smith, rh Andrew (Oxford E)
Smith, rh Chris (Islington S & Finsbury)
Smith, Jacqui (Redditch)
Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent)
Starkey, Dr. Phyllis
Stewart, Ian (Eccles)
Stoate, Dr. Howard
Strang, rh Dr. Gavin
Stuart, Ms Gisela
Taylor, Dari (Stockton S)
Thomas, Gareth (Clwyd W)
Thomas, Gareth (Harrow W)
Todd, Mark (S Derbyshire)
Touhig, Don (Islwyn)
Turner, Dennis (Wolverh'ton SE)
Turner, Dr. Desmond (Brighton Kemptown)
Turner, Neil (Wigan)
Twigg, Derek (Halton)
Twigg, Stephen (Enfield)
Tynan, Bill (Hamilton S)
Vis, Dr. Rudi
Walley, Ms Joan
Wareing, Robert N.
Williams, rh Alan (Swansea W)
Winterton, Ms Rosie (Doncaster C)
Wood, Mike (Batley)
Wright, Anthony D. (Gt Yarmouth)
Wright, David (Telford)
Wright, Tony (Cannock)
Tellers for the Noes:
Joan Ryan and
Question accordingly negatived.