6 November 1998

Make Tories fight for us, Hague told

By David Green

FARMERS this week told Conservative leader William Hague of their fears for the future of their industry and called for more help in pressing for government action.

More than 20 of Norfolks leading farmers met Mr Hague in a hotel near Norwich Airport as part of a series of regional visits aimed at listening to local views.

Some said before the meeting they did not believe the Conservatives were pressing hard enough to persuade the government to improve its treatment of the industry. "They should be rattling the government cage more often," said one.

But the criticism was not voiced in a 40-minute meeting in which farmers reiterated their call for a level economic "playing field" in Europe, more help for the livestock sector and opposition to proposals for increased public access to the countryside.

Hugh van Cutsem, who farms 1013ha (2500 acres) at Hilborough, West Norfolk, said the access proposals were idiotic.

"John Prescott, the deputy Prime Minister, has just published a paper on environmental sustainability, but this will be destroyed if people are allowed to wander through sensitive wildlife areas."

There was a clear divide among the farmers present over the merits of joining the single European currency but Mr Hague made clear that Conservative policy would oppose entry for the foreseeable future.

William Brigham, who farms 283ha (700 acres) and keeps a 110-head dairy herd at Lyng Easthaugh, near Norwich, warned that action would be necessary to protect farmers from the impact of currency fluctuations.

Mr Hague told farmers he believed the industry had been badly let down by the present government. The Conservatives wanted a fairer deal for farmers from retailers and from a government which, Mr Hague suggested, had imposed a series of burdens since coming to power.