25 July 1997

Cull cow plans met with fierce counter-attack

GOVERNMENT has come under fire from opposition MPs over its plans to cut cull cow compensation and introduce a weight ceiling for the over-30-month scheme.

Farmers and their union leaders have been lobbying MPs for the past fortnight to try and put pressure on the government to reverse the planned changes, due to come into effect on Aug 4.

At agriculture questions in Parliament, MPs pointed out that farmers stood to lose up to £150 a beast if the 560kg liveweight payment ceiling was introduced.

They added that beef suckler producers would be particularly badly affected by the weight restrictions, and called on MAFF to withdraw the proposal.

Twenty MPs have signed a motion deploring the reduction in OTMS slaughter payments, demanding that compensation rates should stay at 0.9ecu/kg, and attacking the weight restrictions.

Prime minister Tony Blair said the cuts were necessary in a bid to stem the escalating costs of the BSE crisis, which were now estimated at £4bn.

David Curry, shadow farm minister, widened the attack and said green £ revaluations were causing further misery to farmers, yet government had failed to fight for EU compensation.

"With the next green £ revaluation now imminent, why does the Parliamentary secretary (Elliot Morley) not do what the ministers of eight other countries have already done and go to Brussels and get the compensation to which he is entitled for his farmers, who will otherwise suffer," asked Mr Curry.

The previous Conservative government also ignored repeated requests from farmers leaders to implement agrimonetary compensation. But, Mr Curry said the situation had changed because since the election there had been two major green £ revaluations and a third was imminent.

Responding to demands from opposition MPs for full support to be given to farmers during governments annual hill livestock compensatory allowance (HLCA) review, Mr Morley was unable to offer any crumbs of comfort.

There was little chance of government repeating the extra £60m given to hill beef producers last year to help them cope with the downturn in prices caused by the BSE crisis.

When the Tory party was in government it had made no provision for the £60m payment to be repeated this year. The money had not been budgeted for and that would cause "some difficulty in providing support through HLCAs," Mr Morley said.n