21 April 2000

Labour MPs back early retirement for farmers

By Isabel Davies

LABOUR backbench MPs representing over 100 rural constituencies – one-quarter of all Labour MPs – are putting pressure on the government to develop an early retirement scheme to help farmers get out of the industry.

Although the government has so far refused to implement a retirement scheme, members of the Rural Group of Labour MPs say a scheme is needed along with support for an off-farm employment programme for farmers and their families.

Launching its Manifesto for Rural Britain, group chairman Peter Bradley (The Wrekin) said the document was not a wish list but "intensely pragmatic".

The manifesto sets out a series of practical measures which would help to overcome difficulties and meet the needs of rural communities, he said.

He added: "We make no secret that we would like to see a great many of them adopted in the governments rural white paper. The white paper represents a once-in-a-generation opportunity to address the needs of rural communities."

The manifesto, claimed to be broadly endorsed by the NFU and Country Landowners Association, says government has a role to play helping farmers change direction.

It says the transition is inevitable. "Farmers do not have an automatic right either to profits or to subsidies. They have to earn both. They must regard their livelihood as a business. Too few do."

"They must be more flexible in identifying and exploiting market niches, more responsive to consumer demand and a great deal more imaginative, aggressive and committed in their marketing."

Other key ideas included in the document are a need for a more flexible planning system to support diversification, a reduction in red tape and incentives for farmers to co-operate.

Lib-Dem agriculture spokes- man Colin Breed said: "It seems interesting that the rural Labour MPs feel the need to produce their own manifesto in the first place, when the government claims its solutions work for everyone."