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Common Agricultural Policy

3. Mr. Jonathan Djanogly (Huntingdon): If she will make a statement on the impact on the Scottish economy of the common agricultural policy in the last 12 months. [65299]

The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mrs. Helen Liddell): Agricultural policy in Scotland is a devolved matter, which rests with the Scottish Executive. Farmers in Scotland receive about £450 million a year in direct subsidy payments from schemes based on the common agricultural policy.

Mr. Djanogly: It is hardly controversial to say that the common agricultural policy is failing the British people as a whole. It hinders job creation in rural communities and the development of rural society. It makes food more expensive and works against the interests of farmers and consumers. But when the Government went to Berlin they failed to deliver on CAP reform. Will the Secretary of State confirm that she will stand up for Scottish and British farmers rather than the CAP?

Mrs. Liddell: The hon. Gentleman has got a brass neck. Anyone who supported a Government who for 18 years ducked the issue of the common agricultural policy has a cheek lecturing this Government. We began the process of CAP policy reform with Agenda 2000, and we will continue it in submissions in response to statements from the Commission that we anticipate will be made tomorrow. The CAP needs to be reformed and the Government are determined to see that it is. It is important to recognise the quality of Scottish agriculture rather than the quantity issues that dominated the debate when the Conservatives were in power.

Mr. Ian Davidson (Glasgow, Pollok): Does the Secretary of State accept that the impact of the CAP on families in my constituency has been overwhelmingly negative because it has kept food prices at least £20 a week higher than they otherwise would have been? It has also been bad for farmers because it has created a generation of them who are welfare dependent.

Mrs. Liddell: Yes, I agree with my hon. Friend.

John Thurso (Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross): Is the Secretary of State aware of the deep disappointment

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felt by many Scottish farmers last year at the failure of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to pursue agrimonetary compensation despite the repeated entreaties of the Scottish Executive rural affairs Minister? Will she ensure that in the negotiations likely to be consequent on Commissioner Fischler's interim report, the representations made by the Scottish Executive rural affairs Minister will not be treated in such a cavalier fashion?

Mrs. Liddell: It is as well that the hon. Gentleman is a Liberal Democrat Member because people in permanent opposition do not have to make choices. Agrimonetary compensation involves choices because it comes at a cost. The Government and the Scottish Executive go to great lengths to ensure that the voice of the rural affairs Minister is heard within our counsels. The hon. Gentleman should be proud of that because otherwise he is suggesting that his colleague, Mr. Ross Finnie, is not making his case effectively enough.

Mr. Greg Knight (East Yorkshire): We welcome the right hon. Lady's admission that the common agricultural policy needs to be reformed. Is she prepared to go further and agree with the Edinburgh Evening News that

Although there is clearly a case for reform, is not it essential that if plans go ahead for a 5 per cent. or so cut in cereal prices, safeguards need to be in place to prevent honest vulnerable farmers in the United Kingdom, in particular in Scotland and the north of England, from going out of business? Will she suggest to the Prime Minister that, in the negotiations that lie ahead, instead of trying to court popularity on the world stage, he for once stands up for Britain, our rural way of life and the Scottish farmer?

Mrs. Liddell: The right hon. Gentleman is not being predictable today. He usually asks me about business regulation. I wonder whether Enron, Tyco and WorldCom have convinced him of the value of regulation.

The right hon. Gentleman has a cheek. My party argued for CAP reform for 18 years, but the Government he supported did nothing about it. This Government are committed to change that is in the interests of consumers as well as farmers.

Scottish Regiments

6. Patrick Mercer (Newark): What recent discussions she has had with the Secretary of State for Defence regarding the future of Scottish regiments. [65303]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Scotland Office (Mrs. Anne McGuire): My right hon. Friend has regular discussions with the Secretary of State for Defence on a wide range of defence matters. The Scottish regiments have an important continuing role in the United Kingdom's defence plans.

Patrick Mercer: I find it hard to be reassured by the Minister. With a new chapter of the strategic defence review about to be announced, it is interesting to note that the worst-recruited regiment in the Royal Armoured

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Corps is the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards. Britain's oldest regiment of infantry, the 1st Regiment of Foot, the Royal Scots, already has 100 Fijians serving in its ranks. The 42nd Regiment of Foot, the Black Watch, is constantly under threat—

Mr. Speaker: Order. The hon. Gentleman cannot go through all the Scottish regiments.

Mrs. McGuire: Speaking of having a cheek, the last regiment to lose its proud name was the Gordon Highlanders, and that was disbanded in 1994 under the previous Conservative Government.

I take this opportunity to pay special tribute to 45 Commando Royal Marines, based in Arbroath, who have just returned from Afghanistan. I assure the hon. Gentleman that when I was talking to Brigadier General Robert Gordon last week, he stated that the armed forces are putting all their resources into recruitment and that the figures are comfortable enough at the moment, given an economic situation in which people have other choices. [Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman can say that it is not true if he wants, but I assure him that the Scottish regiments are putting a great deal of energy and commitment into recruitment and retention of forces.

Mr. Eric Joyce (Falkirk, West): Does my hon. Friend agree that the most important thing for our armed forces, to which we give the greatest challenges in this uncertain world, is operational effectiveness? Does she agree that those who would split Scotland from the UK risk that effectiveness in the gravest of ways?

Mrs. McGuire: I certainly would not like to compete with my hon. Friend on issues of defence. He is correct, and the Scottish National party's catastrophic policies on the United Kingdom would not only mean a diminution in our defence capability but impact economically on tens of thousands of jobs across Scotland.

David Burnside (South Antrim): When the Minister is defending Scottish regiments in discussions with the Ministry of Defence—I shall not list all the Irish regiments, Mr. Speaker—will she try mention the end of the royal tournament, which was once a great platform for promoting the excellence of all three sections of our armed forces? Will she ask the MOD to stop penny- pinching and bring back the public sector money to promote the royal tournament at Olympia once again?

Mrs. McGuire: I listened to what the hon. Gentleman said about the royal tournament, but if he is at a loose end in August and early September, the tattoo in Edinburgh is a good substitute.

Pyramid Schemes

7. Mr. John Lyons (Strathkelvin and Bearsden): If she will take steps to stop (a) the women empowering women scheme and (b) other pyramid selling. [65304]

The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mrs. Helen Liddell): The women empowering women scheme, for those who do not know about it, is a cruel con, no better than a chain letter. As soon as the chain is broken, women

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lose money. The arithmetic of the scheme simply does not add up, and I congratulate my hon. Friend on his campaigning on the matter because publicity is the best way to protect women from the scheme. The Government are looking at other ways to protect those who get involved in this totally reprehensible means of pyramid selling.

Mr. Lyons: I thank my right hon. Friend for her response. Will she initiate immediate discussions with the Department of Trade and Industry on how best we can combat schemes such as women empowering women, or as she has properly called it, women conning women? These get-rich-quick schemes are driving people into the arms of loan sharks all over Scotland, and I congratulate the Daily Record on its stance on the issue. It is important that we make it very clear that loan sharks only bring fear, despair and intimidation into our communities.

Mrs. Liddell: I could not have put it better myself—my hon. Friend is absolutely right. To call such people loan sharks is to insult sharks. They are vermin who prey on the most vulnerable in our communities. The DTI is already looking into a review of the Consumer Credit Act 1974, and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport is examining women empowering women. It is a clever scheme: it is not technically pyramid selling because there is no product involved, but that does not mean that women do not lose substantial sums. Those who think it a laughing matter should come to some of Scotland's poorer communities and see what those people are doing.

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