22 September 1995

Labour promises the earth in the farmyard

By Peter Bullen

Political correspondent

LABOUR took its fight for votes into the farmyard last week with Party leader Tony Blair making his first official announcement on agricultural policy since his election to the leadership last year.

Speaking on a visit to a 100-cow Bedfordshire dairy farm, Mr Blair promised farmers a revamped agriculture ministry, better policies on rural transport, housing, and the fight against rural crime, and a sensible approach to Labours right to roam charter for ramblers.

He advocated reforms of the EUs common agricultural policy. The money saved by cutting subsidy and export refund payments would be targeted at improving the rural economy.

His visit and comments were made to launch Labours rural voters project ahead of the general election. His hosts were John and Rachel Goodge who have been tenants of Bedfordshire County Councils 150-acre Bolebec Farm, at Maulden, for 23 years.

Mr and Mrs Goodge and their county NFU chairman Graham Tucker said they had been impressed by the tone of Mr Blairs remarks about farming and the countryside but felt he had not been specific enough.

Reiterated rural policies

Mr Blair and shadow farm minister Dr Gavin Strang together reiterated Labours rural policies.

For farming it could mean a broader based ministry with the emphasis on food and rural affairs as well as agriculture.

New entrants could be helped by a campaign to save county council small holdings and farms, better access to quota and consideration of the EUs retirement scheme which could help create new openings in the industry.

On Labours right to roam policy Mr Blair was emphatic that it could only work in a sensible way that ensured crops, livestock and work in the countryside were not disturbed.

Mr Blair added it was important to recognise that farming was a business and that the countryside was not a theme park or simply a place for townspeople to escape to.

On the CAP he said: "We must attack wasteful price support like intervention buying which creates wine lakes and butter mountains. We must work to eliminate subsidies that lead to food dumping and agree new incentives for socially and environmentally acceptable land management.

"We must crack down on fraud and develop a new common policy that puts support for agriculture in the context of wider investment in rural areas."