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Monday, September 27, 1999 Published at 12:30 GMT 13:30 UK

UK Politics

Nick Brown's speech in full

This is the full text of the speech by Agriculture Minister Nick Brown during a debate on farming at Labour's conference:

Let me tell you what we're doing. I and my team of ministers - Joyce Quin, Helene Hayman and Elliot Morley are driving forward Labour's reform agenda for agriculture, the food industry and the countryside. We're getting underway key manifesto commitments:

  • lifting the worldwide ban on British beef
  • setting up our new Food Standards Agency
  • and modernising the quarantine system by introducing passports for pets

For the coming months I have three major priorities:

  • Making further progress with agricultural reform during the next WTO round
  • Making maximum possible use of new opportunities to pursue Labour's countryside policies through the Rural Development Regulation
  • and helping British farming through the present deep and enduring fall in farm incomes.

I believe we should have a common approach to agriculture throughout the European Single Market but I want to transform the CAP so that there is less emphasis on production subsidies that force prices up - and more emphasis on rural development measures which recognise the role played by agriculture in rural life , in rural economies, in protecting the environment and in shaping the landscape.

We, Europeans, cannot go on producing food surpluses in heavily subsidised regimes.

Food which is either dumped on world markets, with damaging effects on producers outside Europe, - or put into store, building stockpiles of food that will never be eaten.

Earlier this year we achieved the most significant CAP reform ever, on the basis of constructive dialogue and well reasoned argument.

The same with the beef ban. We convinced our partners in Europe on the scientific and technical merits of our case that British beef is now amongst the safest in the world.

Compare that to the Conservative Party's approach. They presided over getting into the BSE crisis in the first place -and then waged a petulant war against the rest of the European Union as if it were somebody else's fault.

And they haven't changed. William Hague's response to the current problems in farming is to start a trade war.

His latest policy is certainly illegal, it would cost Britain's farmers dear. Hague is inviting massive retaliation from our trading partners, he's putting at risk our 10 billion food and drink exports, he's putting at risk hundreds of thousands of British jobs.

And let us not forget that as well as undermining the industry, Conservative incompetence shattered consumer confidence in the safety of the food we eat.

To restore confidence we're setting up a Food Standards Agency - to provide reliable, independent advice with the power to safeguard the interests of the public and in place by the Spring of next year.

The Agency has been attacked by the Conservatives - as part of their campaign to sow divisions between urban and rural areas where none need exist.

And in my view it's a very wicked thing to do - to try to set one group of people against another.

When I attend meetings in rural communities I'm not surprised to find that their aspirations are no different to my constituents in East Newcastle: decent jobs, good schools, a health service that's there when you need it, protection from crime, and an efficient transport system.

There is of course a rural dimension,

  • we're putting 170 million into rural public transport improvements,
  • we've halved the business rate on lone village shops
  • we're reversing the policy of closing village schools
  • we've added 30,000 hectares to the greenbelt
  • we're putting in place policies to enhance the landscape and improve access to open areas for everyone who wants to enjoy them.

And last week I announced 150 million in new help - giving priority to hill farmers whose average incomes in an area like North Wales for example is less than 5,000 a year.

We need an agricultural policy shaped in the interests of taxpayers, consumers, the environment and the people whose livelihood depends on the industry. I am backing a range of ways forward:

Bearing down on unnecessary, restrictive or inefficient regulations.

Restructuring; Diversification;

Development of new markets and high value added products that command a premium, like speciality foods and organic produce;

New outlets like farmers markets;

Imaginative marketing schemes which capitalise on British advantages in terms of quality and animal welfare.

We can be proud of our commitment to animal welfare. But while working to raise standards we must avoid imposing such a burden on farmers that home-produced meat is replaced by imports and we end up losing the farmers while leaving the animals no better off.

Above all, the way forward is through co-operation and collaborative working all the way along the food chain. Between retailers, distributors, processors, manufacturers and primary producers.

Farmers are having a tough time at the minute - particularly in the livestock sector and particularly in the hill areas. I make no apology for intervening when times are as tough as they are right now.

I've represented East Newcastle since 1983. I saw what successive Tory governments did to shipbuilding, to heavy engineering, to steel, and to coal mining.

What was done to my constituents was wrong. And I'm not going to let that happen to working people in other communities.

The Labour Party has more Members of Parliament representing rural areas than any other party.

We were elected by the whole nation - town and country - and we are now governing for the whole nation - town and country.

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