12 January 2000
Farm subsidies are drugs, MPs told

By Isabel Davies

FARM subsidies have been likened to dangerous drugs by the governments rural policy advisers who want farmers to adopt more market-oriented methods.

Ewen Cameron, chairman of the Countryside Agency, told MPs he believed that subsidies are “a drug that has distorted the agricultural marketplace”.

Mr Cameron made the statement as he gave evidence to the House of Commons Environment Select Committee on Wednesday (12 January).

He said agriculture should produce the goods it can market. Farmers would benefit from a shorter supply ladder if they added value and sold locally he added.

Mr Cameron also gave evidence on the forthcoming rural white paper, which is being jointly prepared by MAFF and the Department for the Environment.

The paper, which will be released later this year, should focus only a limited number of key issues and should not try to cover absolutely everything, he said.

“We need some bold, deliverable objectives,” he said. “It should not be all things to all men.”

Mr Cameron told the cross-party committee of MPs that the paper needed to be more about rural communities and social problems than the environment.

“It needs to set out entitlements – what people in rural areas should expect.”

The government should be ready to make clear what level of public service people and businesses in rural areas should be aiming for, he stressed.

The agency has already identified as a priority the need to breathe new life into market towns, saying they should be centres for business and entertainment.

Other key issues identified in written evidence to the committee include making sure that computers are accessible in schools and post offices.

The agency believes this would help prevent people living and working in rural areas from being denied the benefits of the communications revolution.

Mr Cameron has previously backed the idea of giving farmers more flexibility to carry out other, non-farming activities in farm buildings.