30 March 2000
Summit was media stunt, say MPs

By FWi staff

OPPOSITION parties have accused Tony Blair of turning his Downing Street summit with farmers leaders into a media stunt.

The prime ministers aid package will not be enough to restore confidence in the agricultural industry, said Tim Yeo, shadow agriculture minister.

Mr Yeo, the Tory MP for South Suffolk, welcomed the cash for the livestock sector. But he questioned the governments commitment to the farm sector.

“Its a bit of a sticking plaster for an industry that is in danger of bleeding to death,” he told Farmers Weekly

“Overall there still is a question mark over Labours commitment to agriculture as an industry in the long term.”

Mr Yeo said that 60 million announced by Mr Blair for hill farmers was only enough to match what has been paid out for the last two years.

“It is not new money and doesnt improve their situation at all,” he said.

Earlier, Mr Yeo had urged Mr Blair not to use the summit as a photo opportunity, as he was accused of doing after a cancer summit last May.

“Photo-opportunities with a hand-picked selection of the agriculture sector is no substitute for a policy that should address the worst crisis in agriculture for 50 years.”

David Heath MP, the agricultural spokesman for the Liberal Democrats, said the seeds of the crisis could not be reversed by one high-profile media event.

Mr Heath said the 188m announced by the prime minister would be welcomed. But in general, he added, the package was too little and too late.

The governments aid for farmers would bot not enough to restore confidence in Britains beleaguered agricultural industry, he added.

“For many farm businesses it will mean little more than grant aid for the burial costs of the industry,” said Mr Heath.

“Over-arching all the problems of the industry is a desperate need to address the strength of the Pound and on that subject, the government has nothing to say.”

The measures will not reverse the decline in farm incomes, said Mr Heath, who called for a long-term investment programme to revive the rural economy.