No extra cash for farming if Labour comes to power…
By Tony McDougal
AGRICULTURE will not receive any injection of cash under a Labour government for at least two years.
Shadow chancellor Gordon Brown pledged this week that the Party will keep within the Conservative Partys budget for 1997/8 and 1998/9.
Labours farm spokesman Gavin Strang said funding for research and development – one of the Partys core aims – would have to wait. But Labour would prioritise spending differently from the Conservatives.
Junior farm minister Tony Baldry predicted Labour would have to introduce a modulation policy if it was to keep to Mr Browns pledge. But Dr Strang said he was cautious about capping arable area aid payments.
"While I dont defend very large individual payments in East Anglia, one has to remember that small farms in the UK are still relatively large in the rest of Europe, and it is vital to ensure that British agriculture does not lose out."
Mr Baldry said the UK farming industry must play to its strengths in the reform of the CAP, and that meant a rejection of modulation.
Paul Tyler, Lib Dem rural affairs spokesman, said a policy of modulation for EU member states was impossible, but changes to make the CAP budget more sustainable were needed. Redirection of price support away from the cereal sector to promote organic farming was one way forward.
With the election just weeks away, it was clear that many farmers were still unimpressed with the Conservatives handling of the BSE crisis and the continuing export ban.
And they received their first public apology from a farm minister: "If at anytime we have erred, we are sorry for that," said Mr Baldry.
He hoped the introduction of the selective cull, which will see the first traced cohort animals slaughtered by the end of the month, would lead to a lifting of the ban. And EU reaction to the culling of 2000 cows in Northern Ireland, with its large number of certified herds, would be monitored closely.
He hoped the certified herds ban would be lifted first, followed by animals born after a certain date – still to be approved – and then exports to Third countries.
The future direction of the Europes potato policy caused some disagreement. Producer John Seymour, North Riding and Durham, received unanimous support in his quest for a lightweight regime from Mr Tyler, who said it should be one of the UKs policies when it takes over the EU presidency in 1998.
But Mr Baldry said even a lightweight regime could hit the CAP budget and strangle the industry. And Dr Strang was worried about the plight of seed producers and moving towards a heavyweight regime with open-ended state intervention buying policy.
Gavin Strang – cautious about capping arable area aid payments.
Tony Baldry – Labour will have to introduce modulation to keep to spending pledges.
Paul Tyler – modulation was impossible but changes in the common agricultural policy were needed.