Gill in pre-Election plea at AGM

5 February 2001

Gill in pre-Election plea at AGM

By Johann Tasker and Alistair Driver

BEN GILL, president of the National Farmers Union, will present politicians at this weeks NFU conference with an urgent wish-list for the farming industry.

With a General Election expected in May, Mr Gill will make the presentation at the NFU annual general meeting beginning in London on Tuesday (6 February).

He sees the presence of six ministers and MPs expected at the two-day event as a key opportunity to push farming to the fore of the political agenda.

The conference will be attended by agriculture minister Nick Brown, shadow agriculture minister Tim Yeo, and Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy.

Junior farm minister Joyce Quin, Lib-Dem rural affairs spokesman Colin Breed, and Welsh shadow first secretary Ieuan Wynne Jones will also attend.

Mr Gill will try to influence the pre-election stance of all leading parties on issues like agri-monetary compensation, TB in badgers and the pesticide tax.

The strategy, worked out over the past few weeks, comes as ordinary farmers show mounting signs of disenchantment with their NFU leaders.

Many of the 2000 farmers due to travel to London believe a more pressing issue is how the union deals with its own members rather than with ministers.

Campaigners like Somerset farmer Derek Mead will use the conference to renew their call for a more democratic system to elect NFU Council delegates.

Meanwhile, 70-year-old Ian Pettyfer, from Devon, has pledged to camp on the pavement overnight outside the conference centre at the Park Lane Hilton Hotel.

He claims the 9am start to the NFU AGM is too early for farmers who come from far away and cannot afford to pay for overnight accommodation in London.

Other rumblings of discontent among NFU members also indicate that the conference could be a difficult one for Mr Gill and his fellow leaders.

A question time allowing ordinary farmers to question vice-president Michael Paske and deputy president Tim Bennett may provide lively debate.

That session will be chaired by Mr Gill on Tuesday afternoon.

Last years conference was notable for comments by Prime Minister Tony Blair who appeared to rule out a tax on pesticides used by farmers.

One year on, such a tax is still very much on the agenda. Delegates will be eager to hear agriculture minister Nick Browns view on the subject.

Mr Brown will be equally keen to avoid confrontation with confectionery following last years conference when he was attacked with a chocolate éclair.

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