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Agriculture

Volume 447: debated on Wednesday 7 June 2006

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I have regular discussions with ministerial colleagues on a range of subjects, including matters affecting agriculture in Wales.

I am pleased to hear about the Secretary of State’s ongoing discussions with other Cabinet colleagues. What precautions are the Government going to take to ensure that Welsh and other British farmers are not penalised in the next round of common agricultural policy reform? It is generally recognised that we have the most productive farmers, and they should be applauded for that. Europe should learn from that and our farmers should not be penalised—in Wales or in any other part of the United Kingdom.

I totally agree with the hon. Lady. It is important that we take forward the CAP reform agenda, and Britain is now acknowledged as leading in Europe on CAP reform. I can assure her that, although we want to introduce such reforms, the intention is not to penalise our own agricultural industry in doing so. It is clear that the reforms already in place have not penalised our farmers, and we want to continue in that vein.

Does my hon. Friend agree that the lifting of the beef exports ban will bring enormous benefits to Welsh farmers? Will he take it from me, as a Member of Parliament brought up on a Welsh smallholding many years ago, that Welsh beef is the best and will be a good ambassador for Wales?

Indeed—I totally agree with my hon. Friend. It may help the House if I remind everyone of what we lost during the past 10 years because of the bovine spongiform encephalopathy disaster, which happened under the last Government, and the resulting beef ban. In 1995, beef exports from the UK were worth £600 million, and 270,000 tonnes of British beef were exported. We have lost all that in 10 years, and we need to regain those markets. I am glad to say that Hybu Cig Cymru is marketing Welsh beef in Europe, and we have been very successful in securing contracts, particularly in Italy.

I agree with what the Minister has just said, but may I draw his attention to another important, current subject: the failure of the fallen stock scheme? This Government would not allow Wales, and north Wales in particular, to be exempted from the scheme, which, for obvious reasons that we warned about at the time, proved impractical. We now have rotting carcases throughout farms in north and mid-Wales, which is bad for biosecurity and human health and, I am afraid, the economy. Will the Minister please speak to his bungling colleagues in the National Assembly?

The issue is the failure of a company that has provided that service in north Wales, and I am assured that other companies are coming in to tackle the backlog. I agree that it is essential that we deal with the biosecurity issue, which is why the Assembly is tackling it by getting other fallen stock companies to clear up the backlog.

Borders mean nothing to animal disease, so dealing with tuberculosis in cattle and cattle movements between England and Wales requires close co-operation between the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the Assembly Government and the British Cattle Movement Service, as the Minister will doubtless acknowledge. What checks has he made on the co-ordination of data relating to pre-movement TB tests, and what percentage and number of TB reactors have so far been picked up in pre-movement testing in Wales?

I readily accept the need in the cross-border areas for both DEFRA and the Welsh Assembly Government’s agriculture department to work closely together, and my understanding is that that is happening. The hon. Lady will understand why I cannot give her the detailed figures that she has requested, but I will write to her with them.