25 September 2000
Brown meets protesting farmers

By Isabel Davies at Brighton

MOST MPs attending the Labour Party Conference stayed indoors as 2000 demonstrators gathered to protest about the Governments handling of rural issues.

They chose to hear Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott make a tub-thumping speech scorning the “contorted faces” of pro-hunting protesters.

Outside farmers, hunt supporters and pensioners joined up at the Brighton Centre to voice their criticism of the Government.

They lent their support to a parade of 150 tractors organised by farmers from the Haywards Heath area, and a Countryside Alliance cavalcade.

A helicopter circled overhead and riot police lined the streets as the impressive and colourful protest trundled by.

A series of floats drew attention to some of the key issues affecting the farming industry, like red tape and the price of fuel.

Following came a steady stream of tractors – all running on white diesel at the polices insistence – which sounded their horns as they passed the cheering crowd.

As the tractor parade drew to a close farm minister Nick Brown did emerge to greet a delegation led by organiser Carola Godman Law.

The group was ushered into the conference complex for a meeting with junior farm ministers Elliot Morley and Joyce Quin.

A prior engagement meant Mr Brown was unable to attend the discussions during which protesters gave ministers a letter setting out their concerns.

Speaking beforehand, Mrs Godman Law said the situation for many farmers was so severe that people who would normally steer clear of demonstrations were taking to the streets.

The governments response to the farming crisis so far had been lacklustre and without commitment or conviction, she added.

Protesters on the streets voiced their agreement.

John Nicholson, a retired farmer from Haywards Heath said: “Since 1930, when I was a child, I have never seen the farming community in such a distressed state.

“People might think they are loaded, but if you look at the problems – environment, conservation and marketing – then it is becoming absolutely abysmal.

“As soon as the country is in trouble, like during the fuel protests, there is no bread, no milk. Instantly it comes back to food.

“The government needs to think about that and seriously.”

Roger Freeman of agricultural supplier Farmcare in Haywards Heath said he was there to show the government that there was solidarity among the farming community.

“Farming is bleeding to death at the moment and they are not actually listening.

“We havent got a level playing field on which to play the game.”