26 February 1999

Aplogise call to Tory chief

FARM minister Nick Brown has demanded an apology from Conservative Party leader William Hague for comments he made concerning the governments stance on Agenda 2000.

In a speech to farmers this week, Mr Hague accused Mr Brown of "selling out" by accepting that payments to larger farmers should be cut as part of CAP reform.

But Mr Brown, speaking in Brussels on Monday night, said Mr Hague was confusing "capping", which the Labour Party opposes, with "degressivity", which Labour supports. Degressivity would result in payments to all farmers being steadily reduced over time as a way of controlling the EU budget.

Mr Brown also accused Mr Hague of breaking with parliamentary tradition which says the opposition should not launch direct attacks on ministers while they are in the middle of negotiations. "I condemn what Mr Hague has done and have asked him for a retraction and an apology," he said.

Mr Hague made the comments while speaking to farmers at Cutcombe Market, Somerset, on Monday. He said the Tories were "resolutely against what is called degressivity, which is Euro jargon for penalising large farms". The government appeared to be ready to "cave in to pressure from other European countries" when it came to reducing payments for large farms. "He (Nick Brown) has hoisted the white flag before the negotiations have even begun."

Following Mr Browns demand for an apology, shadow farm minister Tim Yeo jumped to his party leaders defence. Far from compromising Mr Browns negotiations, Mr Hague was simply giving voice to concerns that the minister would not oppose unfair changes to the CAP, he said.