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Monday, 13 August, 2001, 14:40 GMT 15:40 UK
Rural recovery chief under fire
Lord Haskins interviewed by the BBC in France
Lord Haskins supports French farming methods
The government's rural recovery chief Lord Haskins has come under fire after calling on farmers to learn from the French, be more enterprising and rely less on state hand-outs.

The comments to the BBC from the Labour peer and chairman of food giant Northern Foods came after a string of uncompromising media interviews and appearances over the weekend.

I wish we could get our farmers to be more enterprising and a little bit less reliant or dependent on the state

Lord Haskins
He predicted half of all UK farms would go bust and implied the Prince of Wales' view of agriculture was a "rural fantasy".

Farmers staged a fightback on Monday, saying that giving them a "kick" would not help the industry's recovery and Downing Street has said the peer is independent and does not speak for the government.

One environmental campaigner described Lord Haskins' comments as "breathtaking".

And shadow rural affairs secretary Tim Yeo said it was "depressing" that Mr Haskins appeared "to have made his mind up before he has even examined the issues" that face the industry.

Lord Haskins was appointed last week to head the government's recovery programme for areas hit by foot-and-mouth.

'I'll listen first'

He has pledged to listen first before suggesting remedies for the industry.

But he told BBC1 Breakfast News: "We have got a lot of lessons to learn from French agriculture.

We need to get the best out of people. Giving them a kick is not the best way to do that

NFU's Ian Gardiner
"Small French farmers have been much more successful in surviving and finding ways of surviving than British farmers.

"I wish we could get our farmers to be more enterprising and a little bit less reliant or dependent on the state when things go wrong."

Intensive farming

He defended his support for intensive farming, insisting that "the world simply cannot go organic".

"But if the organic farmers can achieve, let us say, 10% of the market that would be a great thing to do."

Under my scheme of things the really true-blue organic farmer would get the biggest subsidy of all

Lord Haskins
The Labour peer had already set out a controversial stall in an interview with the Guardian, in which he predicted half of all farmers would be out of business by 2010.

He said farms that had lost herds to foot-and-mouth were now financially better-off than those that had not.

He suggested small farmers would increasingly have to take second jobs to make ends meet.

And he commented that, although he understood Prince Charles' concerns for the countryside, "I think sometimes that there's a suggestion that we should return to some rural fantasy of the old days, when things were better 50 years ago".

Comments 'unhelpful'

National Farmers' Union leader Ben Gill told BBC News Online that Lord Haskins was "totally out of touch with reality".

"What Lord Haskins has got to recognise is that you cannot simplistically analyse British agriculture, because of its diversity, in such a way that will be productive.

"He needs to sit down and listen to the problems there are in Cumbria, where he has been asked to do the rural recovery coordination."

This should be done, said Mr Gill, "in a sensitive way, not the brusque and dismissive way that he has done in the last few days".

George Monbiot
George Monbiot: Green activist

Green campaigner George Monbiot said Lord Haskins' comments were "absolutely breathtaking".

One reason small farmers were struggling to survive was that superstores and their suppliers were squeezing farmers and driving prices up for consumers, he said.

'Independent' voice

Downing Street has since pointed out that Lord Haskins does not speak on behalf of the government.

A spokesman said: "He has got a long background in farming and thinks about things.

"He is going to have his views, others will have their views and we will look at all of them."

Lord Haskins,
"I have no axe to grind on this"
The BBC's Richard Bilton
"Lord Haskins has a reputation for speaking his mind"
See also:

06 Aug 01 | UK Politics
Profile: Lord Haskins
12 Jul 01 | Business
Regulators seen as too bureaucratic
17 Jul 01 | UK Politics
End wasteful subsidies - Beckett
09 Jun 99 | The Company File
Northern Foods bows to GM pressure
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