31 January 2000
Gill tight-lipped about Blair speech
By FWi staff
FARMERS leader Ben Gill has declined to comment on reports that Tony Blair has ruled out giving more money to cash-strapped producers.
Mr Gill, president of the National Farmers Union, confirmed that Mr Blair would address up to 1000 farmers at the unions AGM on Tuesday (1 February ).
But he refused to comment on newspaper reports that the Prime Minister will tell delegates to avoid focusing on “short-term fixes” for survival.
“I prefer to wait until I hear what he says,” Mr Gill told reporters.
“We will assess what is happening having heard the speech and respond within 48 hours.”
Instead of extra cash, Mr Blair is expected to urge producers to diversify, exploit environmental markets, and adopt new technologies such as e-commerce.
Mr Gill said he had asked Mr Blair to tell farmers exactly what part he sees expects them to play in the governments approach to rural policy.
“The reason I have asked him to come is to make a clear statement about what place farmers have in rural communities,” said Mr Gill.
“I think he will have a robust reception – it depends on what he says, and also on how he says it.”
The NFU has pressed Mr Blair to compensate British farmers for a 450 million drop in farm subsidies for British farmers caused by the strength of Sterling.
But the government has refused because any compensation from Brussels would have to be matched by the Treasury.