Tory front-runners speak out

7 September 2001

Tory front-runners speak out

It has been a long summer

for Kenneth Clarke and Iain

Duncan Smith. Still reeling

from the Conservative

Partys election defeat, the

pair were forced back on

the campaign trail to battle

it out for the party

leadership. But in less than

a week they will learn

whether their efforts are to

be rewarded. Party

members have been given

until Sept 11 to return the

ballot papers which will

reveal which of the two

candidates they believe is

the man to lead the

opposition. farmers weekly

asks both candidates what,

if elected, they will offer

the farming industry?


What is your vision for the future of the countryside and farming?

Farmers maintain 85% of the UKs land area and without farming there would be no countryside. The landscape only looks the way it does because it is farmed and managed. Food production should continue to be the central activity with diversification into food processing and tourism adding value. Less regulation, less taxation and a level playing field can restore prosperity. The UK must produce as much of its own food as possible and value-added opportunities must be maximised.

What policies would you implement to help the industry recover from the agricultural crisis?

We must receive what we are entitled to from the EU. Since 1997, British farmers have been underpaid some £1.2bn in agrimoney compensation for the strength of sterling. Ireland receives £500m/year from the Rural Development Fund, yet we receive £230m. France receives £1.2bn and to have parity we should receive some £2bn.

How would you like to see the Common Agricultural Policy reformed?

I believe in the expansion of the EU, but this is impossible without drastic and urgent CAP reform. Labour ducked this issue at Nice and no reform is due before 2006. Successive reforms have not solved the inbuilt failure of the CAP that one size cannot fit all. National governments should have a greater say over agricultural issues in an enlarged EU.

What contribution would joining the k make to British farming?

A popular misconception is that by joining the k, sterling will be devalued and as a consequence of this farm prices will improve. However, the terms of the Amsterdam Treaty state that sterling will not be significantly devalued from current levels should we join. At the same time, we will lose control of our own interest rates and taxation; the wrong rates can be disastrous as countries within the euro-zone are finding today.

Would you reinstate MAFF on gaining power?

The fiasco that has resulted from the Labour governments mishandling of the foot-and-mouth crisis has clearly demonstrated the need for a powerful cabinet minister – one with knowledge and experience – to be responsible for agriculture. It is important that agriculture is represented at cabinet level and that ministers have direct contact with the agricultural and food production industries throughout the whole of the country. We need a full public inquiry into the outbreak.

If Britain was to leave Europe what system would be put in place to support the farming industry?

I do not believe the hypothetical question is relevant. I support world free trade so long as we can have greater control over our own farming industry. This means more control over standards of quality, animal welfare, hygiene, labelling and port policing. We must have the ability to refuse imports that do not match our own stringent production criteria.


What is your vision for the future of the countryside and farming?

Farming needs to address varying markets. There will and must always be a place for commodity production, but the market for recreational and environmental goods will grow in importance as will the market for food products with a regional or local identity. Farming is a rural business within the framework of an interdependent rural economy. It is false to assume that only large units can survive. The key is containment of costs in the shape of indebtedness and workforce.

What policies would you implement to help the industry recover from the agricultural crisis?

We need a rural recovery programme which includes farming. The crisis has illustrated the massive dependence of the countryside on farming and tourism. We need a more diverse economy with farmers helping to deliver it, but first we need to get on with getting farming back to normal – cleansing and disinfection and help for hill farmers stuck because of restrictions. The government is full of what will not happen, but painfully short on what will happen.

How would you like to see the Common Agricultural Policy reformed?

The CAP has already changed far more than most people appreciate and BSE as well as foot-and-mouth is a powerful instrument for change. I expect to see more national flexibility within the framework of EU rules to pursue rural development programmes and environmental programmes. Reform needs to be agreed across the EU – ministers have a tendency to forget we need to maintain a level playing field with Continental competitors.

What contribution would joining the k make to British farming?

One of the reasons for the crisis in farming has been the high level of the £ relative to the k. This has had three impacts – more expensive exports, cheaper imports and lower level of support because of the k:£ parity. Membership of the k, provided it were at an acceptable exchange rate, would bring stability and allow farmers to rebuild their markets.

Would you reinstate MAFF on gaining power?

No. The new arrangement is sensible provided that food and farming carries the weight it deserves. Farming needs a heavyweight department and a heavyweight minister, not the tail-end Charlie that MAFF had become. I would make sure this department had a senior minister determined to put farming and fisheries at the centre of it.

What does continued membership of the EU offer the industry?

A level of support that national governments would be very reluctant to finance, a lobby which far exceeds the weight of any domestic lobby, a market place in an area where trade liberalisation is not yet the norm, a seat at the top table of the most important trading organisation in the world and a better level playing field than if the UK were outside the EU and had no redress or voice against unfair practices.

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