7 August 2001
Haskins ‘wants to drive us from land’

By Alistair Driver

THE appointment of Lord Haskins to spearhead a rural recovery has been condemned by farmers who fear he will try to get rid of thousands of small farms.

Lord Haskins has confirmed that he has been given the role of “rural recovery co-ordinator” to revitalise the countryside in the wake of foot-and-mouth.

But Michael Hart, chairman of the Small and Family Farms Alliance, said he was appalled by the appointment of the outspoken Northern Foods chairman.

It was clear that Lord Haskins, who is close to Tony Blair, was appointed to push the Prime Ministers agenda of rationalising UK agriculture, said Mr Hart.

“He is so outspoken in his views and so biased against small farms that there is no point waiting for his conclusions,” he added.

Mr Hart said Lord Haskins had made no attempt to hide his contempt for small farms and his desire to replace them with big agri-businesses.

Recent comments by Lord Haskins regarding subsidy reform amounted to a call to reduce the number of small and family farmers, he added.

Lord Haskins said earlier this year that farmers should only receive subsidies if they delivered environmental benefits.

He has blamed farmers for spreading foot-and-mouth and believes that vaccination, rather than slaughter, should be introduced if the disease recurs.

John Thorley, chief executive of the National Sheep Association, said he feared Lord Haskins wanted to reduce the size of the national sheep flock.

“We have to make it clear to him that we have a very important role to play and ensure he understands all the consequences of reducing the sheep flock.”

Other organisations gave a mixed reaction to Lord Haskins appointment.

An spokeswoman for the National Farmers Union said: “We are pleased to see someone appointed, as there are so many issues to be addressed.”

Alan Buckwell, chief economist of the Country Land and Business Association, said the appointment must deliver “action not words”.

“What rural areas dont need is another talking shop,” he added.

But Patrick Holden, director of the Soil Association, which lobbies for organic farmers, said the appointment was not entirely bleak.

He added: “It is good he used to be a farmer and he does have some strands of agricultural thinking which are quite healthy.”