17 August 2001

ANOTHERWEEK, ANOTHERMUDDLE – THISTIMEINFORMOFLORDHASKINS

What more muddle has the government in store for British farmers, we asked last week? The answer was swift to arrive in the form of arch foot-in-mouth sufferer Lord Haskins and a scarcely credible 10 inquiries into F&M and the future of farming.

The appointment of Prime Minister Tony Blairs crony Lord Haskins to lead the restructuring of farming after F&M is little surprise. After all, the outspoken chairman of Northern Foods has long been a trusted adviser to No 10. What is surprising is how quickly Lord Haskins has alienated large sectors of the farming industry he aspires to revive.

Describing farmers as "mollycoddled" and predicting that half of the UKs small producers would quit the industry within 20 years was never likely to inspire confidence. Its a bit like learning minutes before a life-threatening operation that your surgeon is suspected of being a serial killer.

Next came the claim that farmers who lost their stock to F&M suffered more emotionally than financially. This catalogue of claptrap was topped by the astounding assertion that British producers should become more like the French. We have a lot to learn from the French, the Americans, and the Germans, he said.

With friends like Lord Haskins, what confidence can we have in governments long-term strategy to revive British farming and the countryside?

Another government muddle of monumental proportions arrived with the announcement of three major, and seven minor, inquiries into F&M and the future of farming. None will be public. None will have the power to compel witnesses to give evidence. None will be open to full public scrutiny.

Most people in rural, and indeed urban, Britain consider that to be an insult after what F&M has inflicted on country people and our countryside.

How many more muddles must we endure? Please help us take a knife to cut through, at least, the governments inquiry muddle. Please lend your support to our campaign Say Yes to a Public Inquiry.