Government concedes farmers are hurting
By Press Association
THE Government last night conceded that British farmers were hurting, with Dr Jack Cunningham, agriculture minister, laying some of the blame on the strength of Sterling.
Dr Cunningham said the nature of agriculture was rapidly changing, and that the need for a more market-oriented and environmentally-friendly policy was being recognised by farmers across the country.
He said it was important to lead the debate in Europe on the Common Agriculture Policy reforms – through the Agenda 2000 process – so that British farmers would be well-placed to take advantage of these changes.
But Michael Jack, shadow agriculture minister, accused Dr Cunningham of a lack of understanding, appreciation and sympathy for farmers problems.
While he welcomed the ministers announcements, he maintained that the industry had hit a “real crisis” since Labour came into office last May.
“The shoe is pinching everywhere in rural Britain,” he said.
Farmers knew that the price-fixing for next year offered them no prospect of additional help or relief, and their special needs would not be met, he insisted.
To Tory cheers, Mr Jack told the House: “And what is the ministers response to all of this? In fact it was a decision to blow £2.3 million on having his ministry moved to a more upmarket address in Smith Square.
“And to add insult to injury, the minister spent about twice the income of one of his hill farmers in his own constituency on new wallpaper and a desk for his office.”
For the Lib-Dems, Charles Kennedy, agriculture spokesman, said the Government had started its EU presidency six months ago with a pledge to reform the CAP, but the issue had “slipped very drastically down the agenda”.
He pressed ministers: “We have heard precious little about what was achieved, they have nothing to say about that whatsoever.”
Mr Kennedy went on: “There is, without a shadow of a doubt, the most profound pressure on every sector of manufacturing industry in this country, of which agriculture is a prime example, by the sheer strength of Sterling.
He called on the Government to commit itself to joining the European single currency to help pull farming out of its slump.
Mr Kennedy warned against a restructuring which would create more “agri-businesses”, or large farms, which could drive smaller, family establishments out of business.
“If you want to move towards more sustainability, more environmental responsibility, more active husbandry of the landscape, you are actually going to need people there to do it.
“If the restructuring instincts of this administration bear fruit, you will not actually have the personnel there to deliver the policy that you want,” he added.