Previous SectionIndexHome Page

(1) the payment out of money provided by Parliament of—
(a) any sums payable by way of state pension credit;
(b) any expenditure incurred by the Secretary of State or other government department under or by virtue of the Act; and
(c) any increase attributable to the Act in the sums payable out of money so provided under any other Act; and
(2) the payment into the Consolidated Fund of any increase attributable to the Act in the sums which under any other Act are payable into that Fund.—[Mr. Kemp.]

Question agreed to.



25 Mar 2002 : Column 676


10.29 pm

Dr. Howard Stoate (Dartford): I have pleasure in presenting a petition signed by more than 2,000 residents of north Kent, most of them pet owners, expressing concern about the recent increase in private firework displays throughout the year. They feel that the suffering that their animals are forced to endure from night after night of fireworks is wholly unacceptable and unnecessary and want legislation to be introduced as soon as possible to restrict the sale of fireworks to the general public to traditional festivals such as 5 November, new year's eve and Diwali.

The petition states:

To lie upon the Table.

Bolton Magistrates Court

10.32 pm

Mr. David Crausby (Bolton, North-East): I present a petition organised by my local newspaper the Bolton Evening News, and supported by my hon. Friends the Members for Bolton, South-East (Dr. Iddon) and for Bolton, West (Ruth Kelly) and myself.

The petition states:

The petition also expresses concern that magistrates from other towns will hear cases involving Bolton issues that they may not understand. It says:

To lie upon the Table.

25 Mar 2002 : Column 677

Gerard Morgan

10.33 pm

Mr. David Cameron (Witney): I present a petition with 342 signatures on behalf of Mr. and Mrs. Morgan of 53 Queens road in Carterton.

The petition states:

To lie upon the Table.

25 Mar 2002 : Column 678

Farming (Somerset)

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Kemp.]

10.34 pm

Mr. Ian Liddell-Grainger (Bridgwater): I am delighted to have secured this debate and even more delighted that four Somerset Members are here and that the fifth has sent his apologies—he could not make it.

Why the need for this debate? Last year farming almost stopped in Somerset. It was the year of foot and mouth, and it was a complete and utter disaster. Across Somerset, the whole fabric of rural life fell apart. Cattle could not be moved, tourists could not come to the area and the markets could not open. Nothing happened. Where are we going now?

Just before I came here to speak, I picked up a copy of the latest "Working for the Essentials of Life", which contains some interesting paragraphs, one of which states:

It continues:

so that, when we go to the World Trade Organisation, we make absolutely sure that British farming is at the forefront of our thinking. I wonder how we can do that, however, because one of our problems especially in Somerset, is brand awareness.

Somerset has an enormous amount to be proud of there is obviously our cider, and we make our own jam and we have our own apples and meat, including lamb. We have an enormous breadth of goods, but we cannot put brand awareness properly across because our co-operatives are not large enough. I ask the Minister whether the European Union co-operative money can now be made available to create co-operatives to develop brand awareness across Somerset, the United Kingdom and the world. As we have a winner, let us try to push it.

I want to talk about some of the issues facing farming that are causing problems for farmers, now and in future. The first is the tractor vibration directive. People may ask what on earth is a tractor vibration directive, but it states that tractors cannot be driven for more than seven hours because the vibration may cause damage to people's fingers. I checked with the National Farmers Union, which is also an insurance company, and it has not encountered that problem in 25 years. I wonder how people on Exmoor and the levels and throughout Somerset will deal with the harvest, seed time and lambing.

I was told that there is no way around the problem because of a lack of staff. Will farmers seriously be told to put tachographs into their tractors? Will they be told that they have to get off their tractors after seven hours? Who will police the directive? Moreover, why should vibration be a problem with new tractors? Before the directive becomes a law in the eyes of the British and something to be ignored in the eyes of the French, I urge the Minister to stop it as quickly as possible. If it reaches the statute book, I can see nothing but trouble from start to finish, as well as challenges from farmers and the NFU.

25 Mar 2002 : Column 679

The second issue, which has affected Somerset massively, is the collapse in the price of organic milk. Organic produce was the great hope for the future. After two years, farmers could take organic produce to the heights of farming. They would receive a premium for their goods, enjoy a continuity of supply and be guaranteed a good income. They knew that they had a saleable asset at the end of the day. What has happened? Milk prices are now 3p below the national average. People cannot continue to farm with those prices; they certainly cannot do so as organic producers.

Yeo Valley, which has sites in all Somerset constituencies, is the biggest producer of organic yoghurt, milk and cream. It is now buying milk at a price that suits it, but which is crucifying the industry. I am always happy to support the Soil Association, but purists in a cut-throat market will find that their throats are cut by the others involved. The supermarkets are now importing an immense amount of supposedly organic goods, and the Soil Association says, "That's fine; we'll okay it." Even though the produce is not organic in the eyes of the Soil Association in the United Kingdom, it is organic outside it. If we go down that line, we could find that the organic industry grinds to a halt because we are determined to remains purists and not to allow ourselves to keep pace with the French, Germans and others, who do certainly do not do as we do.

I want to move on to a somewhat contentious issue—badgers. Everyone understands why the Krebs testing had to stop because of foot and mouth disease. I am delighted to see the hon. Member for Torridge and West Devon (Mr. Burnett) because a lot of that testing took place in his constituency, and it was at the forefront of helping us to understand whether badgers carry tuberculosis. We do not know whether they do, and unless the testing starts again, the problem will be that people will start to take the law into their own hands, as has happened before. We want to prevent that from happening again.

The problem is that we know that something carries TB, but we do not know what it is. Regardless of what some people may say, if the testing is begun again, farmers will be given the hope that a resolution will be found to the problem.

We know that there is a major problem when the largest farms on Exmoor are shut down because of tuberculosis and cannot move their cattle. Tuberculosis is travelling in some form and I urge the Minister to consider that problem carefully. Unless he does that, the future on the levels, Exmoor and throughout Somerset could be bleak indeed. We know what it is like not to be able to move our cattle—nearly 3,500 cattle were stuck on Exmoor. The fact that we could not get the cattle off the land in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Taunton (Mr. Flook) caused enormous damage to the welfare of many animals. I urge the Minister to reinstate testing.

Flooding affects all our constituencies in Somerset. None of us is in any doubt that last year was a disaster for farming in the county. Not only did we suffer the problem of foot and mouth but we lost a huge amount of land because of flooding. The Tone and the Parret burst their banks and an enormous amount of land disappeared under water.

Next Section

IndexHome Page