11 May 2000
MPs debate future of farming
By FWi staff
MPs will debate the future of agriculture on Thursday (11 May) for the first time since the March farming summit.
The contents of the action plan, which emerged from the Downing Street summit and the EU Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) will be discussed in the House of Commons.
Before the debate begins, 50 farmers will lobby their MPs.
Shadow agriculture minister Tim Yeo told the BBC Radio 4 Farming Today programme that there must be substantial changes to CAP.
This was essential if forthcoming EU enlargement was to be achieved without placing an enormous burden of existing taxpayers, he said.
Mark Todd, Labour MP for South Derbyshire, said it was essential that CAP moved from being production based towards social and environmental objectives.
But Colin Breed, Lib-Dem agriculture spokesman, warned that UK plans for modulation – moving subsidies from production to agri-environment schemes – could be fall foul of the European Commission.
A flat rate agreed at the farming summit did not correspond to the Brussels formula, said Mr Breed.
MPs may also consider widespread calls for an early retirement scheme to give some older farmers a way out of the industry.
But Mr Todd said this was unlikely to be introduced as it represented poor value for the Exchequer, because many farmers were already leaving.
Mr Breed said many people cannot leave because they are financially locked into farming, and others trying to enter the industry are locked out.
He said aid should be given to let producers – particularly tenant farmers – retire with dignity.
Mr Yeo said that while he was willing to support such a scheme, it would do little to bring in new blood as young farmers could not see a profitable future.
He said the action plan barely scratched the surface of the problems facing the industry, and that much of aid for the pig sector would simply help people close down.
But Mr Todd said that as the government was prevented by EU rules from giving direct aid to pig sector, marketing and restructuring aid were the best options.
Mr Breed said there should be more effort made to market British produce.