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Mr. Brown rose--

Mr. Yeo: The Minister will have his chance to speak later.

I want the truth about the money that the Minister is spending, instead of the claims that he is helping farmers when he is doing nothing of the sort. The two packages were stuffed full of false promises; they were cynically designed to deceive the public into thinking something was being done for an industry on its knees. They were packages presented without a care for the damage that raising hopes and then dashing them has on the morale of individual farmers struggling to earn a living for their families. In December 1999, the Select Committee on Agriculture concluded:


How right it was.

The story of the past two years is the story of Labour's missing millions--money promised to farmers that turned out not to exist. The prospects for 2001 do not look much better. There has been a very small improvement in some product prices, but incomes remain tightly squeezed. Labour has still not claimed all the agrimonetary

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compensation available this year. There are less than three months left to secure £200 million for the industry and, during oral questions this morning, the Minister refused to say whether he would claim it.

Mr. James Plaskitt (Warwick and Leamington): Does the hon. Gentleman recall that the previous Conservative Government had the opportunity to take £500 million in agrimonetary compensation but did not take it?

Mr. Yeo: I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman did not listen to the answer I gave to the hon. Member for Staffordshire, Moorlands (Charlotte Atkins). I have explained the answer, and I shall not waste time explaining it again. It is on the record in Hansard. However, I give the pledge today that, as long as the Conservative election victory comes before 30 April--the last day for claiming the money--we will claim every penny of it. Perhaps the Minister will tell us what he expects will happen when the agrimonetary regime runs out in two years. The first act of the next Conservative Agriculture Minister will be to start talks about what will replace that regime.

Not content with misleading farmers, Labour is up to its old trick of increasing the burdens on them. The pre-Budget report published by the Chancellor last November confirmed his continuing support for a pesticide tax. The horticulture industry is threatened with the climate change levy, which is yet another stealth tax penalising British employers, and one that the next Conservative Government will repeal. [Interruption.] The Parliamentary Secretary says that abolishing that tax means that more money will have to be found. That is interesting, because the Government pledged that the money raised by the climate change levy would be entirely recycled to other businesses. Perhaps the Minister has blown the gaff on the Government's post-election plan for the proceeds from the climate change levy.

Horticulture faces another new burden through the proposed extension of the licensing scheme to previously unregulated trickle-in irrigation. In the arable sector, Labour supported the everything but arms proposal, which would have damaged growers of sugar, one of the few remaining profitable crops. Beef producers have been undermined by Labour's refusal to restrict imports of beef from cattle over 30 months old entering Britain following the collapse of confidence in beef in France and Germany.

In that case, it is not only farmers who suffer, but consumers. Inch by painful inch, we extracted the truth from the Minister about the lack of protection for British consumers, such as the absence of checks at ports of entry and the inadequacy of the paperwork attaching to imports. Processed beef products containing beef from cattle over 30 months old are being imported and sold here, but we would have known none of that from the story that the Minister was telling last year.

In Parliament last April, the Minister said:


A week later, he wrote to me and said:


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Unfortunately, every one of those statements turned out to be wrong.

Professor Harriet Kimbell, a member of the Spongiform Encephalopathy Advisory Committee, pointed out before Christmas that the ban on over-30-months meat applied only to fresh meat, which is a crucial distinction. She said:


Finally, the Minister himself came clean in a letter to me on 10 January. He said that the Food Standards Agency had


How lucky that the Minister gave his answers in Parliament. Imagine where he might be now if he had given them to Alastair Campbell. It is the old story: the Minister is the farmer's friend as long as the farmer is foreign. Labour is always ready to crack down on British farmers, but it never acts against imports, perhaps for fear of upsetting its friends in France, who have been so incredibly helpful over the sale of safe, healthy British beef. No matter what France does, legally or illegally, to undermine Britain's farmers or to put Britain's consumers at risk, the Minister will never lift a finger against France.

The whole countryside is now in crisis. That crisis has been made worse by Labour's neglect and hostility, by fuel taxes that uniquely damage rural communities and by cuts in the police that leave our villages unprotected. In thirteen weeks, in all probability, the British people will have their chance to save the countryside. Much will need to be done urgently by the incoming Conservative Government. In our first days in office, we shall take three steps, none of which will cost a penny of taxpayers' money.

First, we shall lift the burden of red tape and regulation now strangling Britain's farm and food industry. We fully endorse the conclusions of Lord Haskins's better regulation task force. We shall stop the gold-plating of regulations. We shall stop enforcing European directives, such as that on integrated pollution prevention and control, sooner and in a tougher manner than other countries.

If the Minister wants to show that he is concerned about red tape, he could start with the European charging directive in his Meat (Hygiene and Inspection) (Charges) (Amendment) (England) Regulations 2001, a statutory instrument laid in the past few days. In those regulations, the words "may be" in the European law relating to extra inspection charges payable by food processors are changed to "shall be" in Britain. That typical example of gold-plating by the Government has nothing to do with the European Union. Incidentally, the people who will be affected by those regulations were given two days to comment on a draft that Ministers had taken six months to prepare.

Our second step will be to introduce honesty in food labelling so that consumers know the country of origin and the method of production of the food that they buy.

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Selling food that purports to be British when it contains not a single item grown in this country is simply a fraud on consumers. As fears have grown about the safety of imported beef, Ministers and the Food Standards Agency have suggested that consumers should decide for themselves whether to eat it. However, those Ministers have prevented consumers from being given the information on which they could base that choice.

The third step is to restrict the import of food that is produced in ways that are not permitted in the United Kingdom. There are persistent reports that some of the poultry from the far east is reared using growth-promoting drugs that are banned throughout Europe on health grounds. It is wrong that our farmers should be placed at a competitive disadvantage and that our consumers are put at risk because of Labour's refusal to challenge these imports.

Mr. Nick Brown: On that, at least, I agree with the hon. Gentleman. If he has hard evidence, will he please give it to me?

Mr. Yeo: The Minister said earlier today that it was open to the European Union to inspect the plants in which such food is produced. It is interesting, however, that he relies on the Food Standards Agency and not the EU to tell us whether imported food is correct or not. Is he confirming that the agency has no intention of inspecting any of the plants? That will not fill consumers with much confidence about the care with which assurances are being given.

Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley): Ribble valley farmers are of a mind that, whereas we comply with all the rules and directives that we sign up to, farmers in the rest of Europe seem to be under a new and lax regime. Will my hon. Friend ensure that under the next Conservative Government, the rules and directives that countries sign up to will be properly enforced?


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