30 April 1998
British farmers ripped off by MAFF, say Tories
By Catherine Hughes
LABOUR has ripped off Britains farmers, accuses shadow farm minister Michael Jack.
Mr Jack, who is calling for a change of heart from Government or a change of minister at the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (MAFF), claims the department deliberately held back £139 million-worth of support from Britains hard-pressed farmers.
He said repeated claims made by farm minister Dr Jack Cunningham, that there was no more money in last years agricultural budget to help farmers, was simply not true.
Figures published in MAFFs annual report, and confirmed by the House of Commons library, proves that MAFF underspent last years budget by £139m. The annual report also shows that Dr Cunningham plans to underspend the 1998-99 budget by £46m.
According to Mr Jack, this shows that Dr Cunningham was more interested in currying favour with Gordon Brown, chancellor of exchequer, than working for Britains farmers.
“While family farms face bankruptcy, farm minister Jack `Boot Cunningham is keeping them from the millions that could give them the help they need,” he said.
“Labour has ripped off British farmers. Jack Cunningham has been keeping money back from them whilst telling them that he didnt have the resources to come to their aid,” he added.
Mr Jack said farmers would be particularly appalled given that £2.3m was spent relocating MAFF from Whitehall to Westminster last year. This included £54,000 spent on redecorating Dr Cunninghams new office and almost £5,000 on his new desk.
Mr Jack said Dr Cunningham was totally discredited as minister for agriculture. He said the minister should be prepared to give farmers back the money that was intended for them and that he should talk with farmer leaders to decided on the best way to use the missing millions.
Despite repeated telephone calls from FWi staff, MAFF spokespeople could not comment on Mr Jacks accusations.