coal miners

1 May 1998

Hill farmers – 90s

coal miners

Jack Cunningham is frequently accused of wanting to carve

up farming. But he says he understands the problems faced

by farmers in his Cumbrian constituency – after all, he has

been their MP for over 27 years. Johann Tasker spent a

weekend asking whether they understood Jack Cunningham

PELTED with eggs in Carlisle, pilloried by the popular Press for banning beef on the bone, and pushed around by farmers who accuse him of being ignorant and arrogant: Jack Cunningham has seen it all in his year-long tenure as farm minister.

Two weeks ago the pushes and shoves turned to smiles – briefly, at least. Dr Cunningham was on a whistle-stop visit to his Cumbrian constituency with EU farm commissioner, Franz Fischler. This was Cunningham country to a T-bone and the two men joked and small-talked as they relaxed in front of the cameras at Muncaster Castle. But some of the locals are less than happy.

"He has gone very wrong, like a lot of people when they get into a job like that," says Joss Naylor, a 62-year-old hill farmer and former champion fell runner from Bowderdale. "If he had farmed a hill farm and knew the shortfalls, then I would sympathise a bit with him. But his heart is set on doing away with the little farms, which have made the Lake District what it is today."

Coal miners

Mr Naylor believes that hill farmers are the coal miners of the 1990s. Although Dr Cunningham bolstered an ailing industry last year by giving hill farmers a one-off Christmas present of £85m in aid, the same Parliamentary speech revealed proposals to radically reduce the number of livestock producers.

"The government is convinced of the need for substantial restructuring," Dr Cunningham told MPs in the House of Commons. "In the future there will be fewer producers… It is essential for UK producers to plan now on the basis that major changes will come about."

Dr Cunningham barely mentioned hill farmers in his speech, but his first anniversary in office falls two days after the government ended consultation on plans to pay farmers about £25,000 each to give up and get out. It is barely enough money to buy Joss Naylor a two-bedroomed house on a former council estate in the nearby town of Whitehaven.

An insult

"It is nothing but an insult," says Mr Naylor, who has spent all his life living, farming, and running in the Lake District. "These are the places that young men started farming. But there are no young men in any of this valley any more and there are only three farms left. It is awfully sad really but there is no future."

The hill farmer:"His heart is set on doing away with the little farms that have made the Lake District what it is today."Joss Naylor, Bowderdale.

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