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Farming Industry

Volume 517: debated on Thursday 4 November 2010

The Government are determined to help our farming industry play its full role in the food supply chain by clawing back markets lost to imports and by increasing exports. We are therefore changing the whole culture of regulation to one of trust rather than one of threat. We provide investment assistance under the rural development programme and we are working with the industry on knowledge transfer, skills development and sustainability issues.

I thank the Minister for his answer. Will he reassure members of the Farmers Union of Wales, whom I met earlier this week, that he is making progress on the creation of a supermarket ombudsman?

As my hon. Friend knows, the legislative aspects of that issue relate to the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, but I assure him that I am in close contact with my colleagues. We are determined to press ahead with the supermarket adjudicator, as recommended by the Competition Commission a year or so ago.

Animal disease is costly to the Government and farmers, both financially and emotionally. In 2009-10, the Government spent £330 million on animal health and welfare, and the foot and mouth outbreak in 2001, which devastated the local farming economy in Devon, is believed to have cost the UK £8 billion. I recently had a meeting with farmers in Newton Abbot, and they are very concerned that the Government will not listen to them about shaping plans, going forward, for cost and risk sharing—

Order. I know that the hon. Lady is a new Member and I appreciate her commitment to the House, but far too many questions are prefaced with substantial descriptive statements. That must not happen. I ask her for a quick sentence, and then we will move on.

Will the Minister meet me and some of my local farmers to discuss their ideas on how to reduce cost and risk sharing?

Yes, I will happily meet my hon. Friend. If you will allow me one more sentence, Mr Speaker, under the cost and responsibility discussions I am absolutely determined, and I will reassure my hon. Friend’s farmers on this, that they will have a major role in formulating disease control policy.

May I ask the Minister how the Government will use their new buying standards for food in the public sector to support British farmers in the 88% of public sector food purchases not covered by the new Government standards? My private Member’s Bill next week is the ideal opportunity for a detailed debate in Committee where we can discuss how we can support farmers.

I can tell the hon. Lady that I am certainly looking forward to next week’s debate on her private Member’s Bill and I congratulate her on introducing it to enable us to have that debate. We will consult on the Government’s buying standards in the next few weeks and we will be launching them early next year. They will apply compulsorily to central Government—we have determined that we should drive these standards forward—and they will include the need to ensure that food procured by the Government is produced to the standards that we expect of our own farmers. That is the best way to ensure fair competition in public procurement.

Does the Minister accept, in the interests of what he has said about competitiveness, that the decision to abolish the national Agricultural Wages Board will not contribute to competitiveness but will simply reduce the living standards and wages of our agricultural workers?

I am afraid that I do not agree with the hon. Lady. That legislation has been in place for 60 years and industrial relations and wages negotiations have changed dramatically over those years. It is worth pointing out that the previous Government, in office for 13 years, did not bring back any of the other wages boards that we had abolished. The present wages board does not allow salaries, it does not allow proper piecework rates and it does not allow annualised rates. Those are all measures that modern labour relations require. That is why it needs to go and all workers will be protected by the national minimum wage regulations, which apply to every other worker in this country.