MPs criticise Browns sleight of hand

14 December 1999

MPs criticise Brown’s sleight of hand

By Donald MacPhail

THE governments farming policy is dogged by unclear presentation and a lack of overall strategy, the chairman of the Agriculture Select Committee has claimed.

Tory MP Peter Luff made the accusation as the committee prepares to publish its report on the livestock industry crisis and government aid for farmers.

“It would be terribly helpful if the government could present these aid packages in a way that people could understand,” he told Radio 4s Farming Today programme.

Mr Luff said he hadnt understood the governments aid package in September until agriculture minister Nick Brown explained it in front of the committee.

“It was clear the minister did not understand elements of the package. He had to check with officials what certain issues actually were within it.”

The September aid package was controversial because it was reported to be worth £500 million. But not all of the £500m was new money.

Opposition MPs were incensed by the confusion over figures from the Ministry of Agriculture about the extent of extra support being given.

MPs have accused Mr Brown of exaggerating the amount of cash aid for farmers, claiming the actual figure was £1m instead of £150m.

The agriculture select committee claims he gave “false hope” to farmers by suggesting that farmers would receive an extra £537m.

This was broken down as as £387m in European Union compensation payments to offset the strength of Sterling and £150m in direct assistance.

However, the £150m represented £89m in deferred cattle passport charges and £60m for hill farmers, which was announced last year.

The only new money was £1m for marketing schemes.

Mr Luff has now called for a clear long-term strategy from the government for farming: “A lack of strategy is our central and most important conclusion.”

However, he shied away from saying Mr Brown had indulged in a deliberate ploy to give the impression that previously allocated money was new cash.

But the Daily Mail was less reticent. It claimed on Tuesday (14 December) that the committee had “savaged” the minister “over ‘bogus’ farm aid”.

Mr Brown refuted these accusations. He said he explicitly announced the £150m in new aid quite separately from other agrimoney compensation.

“Journalists were all given a timetable which clearly reflected all those points.”

Clear announcements on how the UK would implement reforms to the farming sector were made by the government as recently as last week, added Mr Brown.

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