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CONSERVATIVE CONFERENCE: WORKING FOR A SUSTAINABLE FUTURE FOR THE COUNTRYSIDE

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Speech by shadow agriculture minister Tim Yeo to open the debate on ...
Speech by shadow agriculture minister Tim Yeo to open the debate on

the countryside at the party conference in Bournemouth today. He said:

'It gives me great pleasure to open our debate on countryside issues.

'Before doing so let me introduce my colleagues - Jim Paice and Patrick Nicholls, both former ministers who work with me in the commons, Caroline Spellman our departmental whip and Joyce Anelay and Arthur Luke who speak for us in the lords. Would you all stand up please.

'This debate is a fitting climax to our conference. Because it

symbolises our Tory approach of looking at agriculture and the

countryside together. And because no subject offers a more chilling

warning about the consequences of this Labour government.

'Consequences suffered daily by the men, women and children who live,

work and play in the countryside.

'Suffered by sheep farmers reduced to the heartbreaking task of shooting their own flocks.

'Suffered by pig producers facing bankruptcy as imports flood in.

'Suffered by beef farmers waiting for an end to the ban.

'Suffered by hill farmers driven out of business by collapsing prices

and ever increasing regulation.

'Suffered by parents struggling to keep a family farm alive for their

children, only to see their dream wrecked by a government contemptuous

of any ambition which does not fit in with the soundbite image of Cool

Britannia.

'Suffered by the fishing community, desperate for a government that will stand up for their interests in Europe instead of selling them down the river.

'Suffered by cereal growers hit by falling returns.

'Suffered by sports lovers whom Labour MPs want to turn into criminals.

'These are the consequences of a Labour government.

'Many of them irreversible.

'This is what happens when a party which neither knows nor cares about

the countryside takes power.

'No industry today faces a more acute crisis than farming.

'No people have been treated with more contempt than the rural

community.

'No part of our national heritage is in more danger than the

countryside.

'No ministers have approached their task with more arrogance than those at agriculture.

'But there was at least one decision we can welcome.

'The decision to move Jack Cunningham to a different job.

'The most unpopular agriculture minister ever.

'The minister who banned beef on the bone.

'The minister who spent£200,000 on his office while cutting payments to Britain's poorest farmers.

'When 300,000 people came from the county to town last March, a shiver

shook the whole Labour agriculture team cowering in their offices,

looking for a spine to run up. Not one of them came out to meet the

marchers.

'But who has taken Jack's place?

'Nick Brown, MP for Newcastle-on-Tyne East.

'Despite Labour's claims to have many rural seats they can't find an MP from a country consituency to fill the job.

'Maybe, it was the fact that Nick, like Tony Blair, used to be a member of CND, that clinched it.

'At least Nick should be used to being in hot water. He is sponsored by the Boilermakers Union.

'I am told that he thought condensed milk comes from small cows.

'I suppose we should rejoice that he knows that cows have a role in the process.

'He has taken an interest in agriculture.

'When we tried to overturn the ban on beef on the bone in the house of

commons as chief whip he cajoled reluctant backbenchers to vote for it.

'Despite the fact you're more likely to be struck by lightening than to die from eating beef on the bone.

'A ban described by Selkirk sheriff court as a 'manifest absurdity.'

'By the Institute of Trading Standards as 'unenforcable.'

'74 days into his job and the ban still remains.

'Lifting it would not cost the taxpayer, the consumer or the farmers a

single penny.

'If I was minister for agriculture it wouldn't take me 74 hours to

decide to lift it.

'So this is Labour's response to the crisis in agriculture.

'Find an MP with a totally urban background and put him in charge.

'And spend five days at Blackpool preening themselves without a single

speech from a MAFF minister.

'Not that farming was completely ignored at Labour's conference.

'There was a debate last week about industry, heritage and agriculture.

'Perhaps Labour really are bent on turning farm businesses into working museums.

'It was opened by Peter Mandelson, the minister who thinks Sloane Square is a Less Favoured Area.

'But not a single Labour MP spoke up for the rural community.

'Clearly agriculture has no part in Labour's new Britain.

'But without agriculture what is the future for the countryside?

'What is the future for those farmers who are losing their businesses?

'For rural councils whose cash support from the treasury has been

slashed.?

'For greenfields John Prescott has condemned to the bulldozer?

'For the Green Belt which Prescott told the house of commons was an

achievement to build on?

'Prescott, the planning chief who thought that when the prime minister

called for hard choices he meant concrete choices.

'Prescott, whose transport strategy means taxing the rural motorist out of existence and ending the school run.

'Labour cynically assumed that as long as it satisfied its urban friends the rest of us could go hang.

'They seem keener to get big retailers to bankroll their seaside

jamboree than help the struggling British farmers.

'Well they may have miscalculated.

'Last month we won a council seat in Suffolk from Labour in a

by-election on a 13 per cent swing.

'We won a seat in Eastbourne from the Liberal Democrats on a 14 per cent swing.

'Another of the barmy army down the tubes.

'Another defeat for Paddy while he wonders whether his friends in Number Ten will betray him.

'In opposition we Tories don't make Britain's policy.

'Our job is to highlight what is happening.

'The worst crisis in agriculture for a generation.

'A crisis which will hit the whole rural community.

'We won't stand by while that happens.

'Today I and my team are setting out to back the British farmer.

'To fight the corner of hard pressed British producers, who already meet higher standards than most foreign competitors.

'We will discuss with the retailers how high quality British produce can increase its marker share at home; how consumers can be made more aware of the origins of the food they are buying.

'We want to end the sale in Britain of imported food produced by methods illegal in this country.

'We want a fairer balance between prices at the farm gate and those on

the supermarket shelf.

'We will study how to restore our export markets though the longer

Labour drags its feet on the beef ban the worse the situation gets.

'We will search out any regulations, whether from Brussels, Whitehall or in the mind of an overzealous official, which burden the British farmer and fight for their repeal.

'Because we know that what the farming community wants above all is the chance to compete on equal terms.

'And we will put Britain's interests first.

'This crisis is so grave I am ready to set aside party political

differences.

'If Mr Brown comes forward with any proposals to secure the aims I have just set out we will give them a fair wind through parliament.

'Let me finish with this reminder.

'For the first time for half a century the result of the next general

election will depend on rural seats.

'Seats which have been in Tory hands for generations.

'Seats which under Labour have lost their voice.

'Rural communities whose cries Labour ignore and which we Tories are now listening to.

'Cries which we will respond to.

'These are the seats which will put William Hague in Downing Street.

'Let's start the process of winning them back today.

'Let's show that Labour ignores them at its peril.

'Because a government which rides roughshod over the countryside must be opposed.

'As I look round this hall I know that this government will be opposed.

'Opposed on the doorstep as thousands of new Conservatives take our

message directly to the voters.

'Opposed in town halls as the growing band of Tory councillors expose

the incompetene of Labour and Liberal councils.

'Opposed in the countryside as Labour's contempt for the rural community becomes clear.

'And then, after three years of the most principled and vigorous

opposition that his country has ever seen, this Labour government will

not merely be opposed.

'It will be defeated.'

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