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Yeo: Party Conference Speech 2000

This debate has shown which party is the true champion of the countryside.

It's shown that Labour's claim that it represents rural Britain is utterly bogus.

Last week John Prescott, the true voice of Labour, said supporters of the countryside had contorted faces.

I suppose life looks different through the windows of two Jags.

But John Prescott'll soon find out that insults like that simply mean that rural Britain will make sure that after the next election he'll be driving his own car and buying his own petrol.

Maybe by then he'll be backing Michael Portillo's tax cuts.

Let me introduce my team.

Our spokesmen in both Houses. Jim Paice, Malcolm Moss and Hazel Byford.

And our whips Geoffrey Clifton-Brown and Arthur Luke.

Last year Tony Blair set out his vision of the countryside.

A giant theme park, a rural version of Labour's Millennium Dome.

Where the past is forgotten, traditions mean nothing, and the future is bleak.

By contrast we believe in a living and working countryside.

A countryside for all the people.

For us the survival of farming is part of Believing in Britain.

Without farming the rural economy will decline.

Without farming our green and pleasant land will fall into decay.

We will never let that happen.

When I finish I want you all to come with me to our Country Fair, just outside the Conference Hall.

To demonstrate our support for the countryside.

Our belief in a sustainable agricultural industry.

Because sustainability is the key to the future.

As the world's population grows, as living standards rise, how do we leave our children and grandchildren a better planet than the one we inherited?

How do we stop using resources selfishly for ourselves alone?

These are the questions we must answer.

The questions Labour is ignoring.

But before we can achieve our long-term vision short term problems must be tackled.

And as speakers have pointed out this morning these problems have not just been neglected by Labour.

They have been made worse by Labour.

When nice Nick Brown took over from Junket Jack Cunningham there was a sigh of relief.

Nice Mr Brown went round appearing to listen to farmers.

The trouble is that's all he did.

At last week's Labour conference he talked about shipbuilding.

About coal mining.

About the steel industry.

But he didn't once mention dairy farmers, or pig farmers.

That's why he isn't fit to be Minster of Agriculture.

He's not nice Nick any longer.

He's Nasty Nick.

And if the Cabinet were in Big Brother.

Nasty Nick would be thrown out first.

Unless of course Chatshow Charlie Kennedy was one of the other contestants.

For him, and for the rest of Chatshow Charlie's barmy army, the ones who were here in Bournemouth two weeks ago, politics is just another chatshow where the audience is bored with getting the same answer to every question.

Whatever the question, Charlie's answer is a tax increase.

More tax on income.

More tax on petrol.

You name it, they'll tax it.

But let's give credit where it's due.

The Lib Dems say they want to help the countryside.

And they've certainly thought up some new ideas.

Like getting rid of the Queen.

Like promoting gay marriages.

Like setting up an asteroid task force.

They're really in touch.

So closely in touch their agriculture spokesman says, "overall it would be churlish to say [Nick Brown] hasn't been pretty successful."

The truth is Nick Brown has been disastrous.

Disastrous for dairy farmers whose income under Labour has fallen by 70 per cent.

Disastrous for cereal farmers whose income under Labour has fallen by 75 per cent.

Disastrous for pig farmers whose income under Labour has disappeared altogether.

Last year sixty people left farming every day.

Gordon Brown boasts of ending boom and bust.

But in the countryside he's started bust and bust.

And all Nasty Nick offers is a sticking plaster for an industry that's bleeding to death.

To make matters worse they're strangling farmers and small businesses with red tape.

Burying them under a mountain of paperwork.

Forcing small abattoirs to close.

Applying regulations more toughly here than elsewhere.

Regulations like a Nitrates Directive which hardly any other country enforces.

An Integrated Pollution Prevention and Control Directive, which was never intended to apply to farming at all.

I give you this promise.

When William Hague is Prime Minister and I am Minister of Agriculture we won't enforce European rules any faster than France, than Spain, not even than Italy.

And we'll do our damnedest to stop any more needless regulation from being introduced in the first place.

But it isn't only Nick Brown's actions which damage farmers, consumers and the countryside.

It's his inaction too.

Take beef exports.

Last year Labour claimed they'd ended the export ban.

Even though they hadn't ended their own ban on beef on the bone.

France didn't agree.

They illegally blocked the export of safe British beef.

In response Nick Brown did nothing.

As the crisis got worse he stopped speaking to his French counterpart.

At the Anglo French summit British beef wasn't on the agenda or the menu.

Instead of confronting France Nick Brown sat cringing in Whitehall.

And today, fourteen months after Tony Blair boasted that the beef export ban was over, exports are less than one per cent of what they were.

Is that what Tony means when he says, "by playing by the rules it is possible to win in Europe"?

Sadly it isn't only beef farmers Labour has betrayed.

Pig farmers have also been condemned - often to bankruptcy.

Pig farmers who rear their pigs more humanely than many farmers abroad; who pay for extra health measures because of BSE, a problem they did not cause.

Labour doesn't care how much bacon or ham or pork is imported from countries with lower health and animal welfare standards.

Other farmers have suffered, too.

Dairy farmers like Graham Bigwood, the Somerset tenant farmer, who is with us today.

Two weeks ago I had a letter from Graham. He said:

"We have now reached the sad stage of talking to the Crown Commissioners about our future. We are a year behind on our rent and our debts are steadily rising.

"Yesterday I spoke to the Tenant Farmer's Association who advised me to try and negotiate a package with the Crown to leave Binham Farm. For the last twenty five years I have worked for eighty plus hours a week in dairy and face financial ruin as a result of this crisis."

In March Graham invited me to his farm where I helped milk his cows at five in the morning.

He invited Nick Brown, too.

But Nick didn't go.

He didn't want to talk about Tony Blair's cave in last year on milk quotas or about how he smashed up Milk Marque.

And Labour's damaged other farmers too.

Sheep farmers have been betrayed because Labour feeds the army South American mutton rather than good British lamb.

Arable farmers, like those in Tony Blair's own constituency, who I'm visiting next month, have been betrayed by Labour's refusal to claim agri-monetary compensation.

Hill farmers have been betrayed by Labour's skewing of the rules to hurt the most vulnerable.

Horticulture farmers are burdened with Labour's bogus Energy Tax, which we will repeal.

Fruit growers like one I visited in Kent who had to leave fields of fruit to rot because Labour won't let him employ the people he needs to pick his crops.

You'd think Tony Blair wants to put Britain's farmers out of business.

And if that's the case Nasty Nick's the right man for the job.

It's a scandal that Britain's rural communities are being destroyed.

And it's a scandal that Labour is letting down consumers too.

In March when Parliament debated a Conservative Bill requiring labels to say where food comes from and how it's produced, a Labour Minister deliberately talked it out.

Tony Blair is too scared of what Brussels might say if Britain stood up for honesty in food labelling even to let Parliament debate the subject.

So consumers continue to buy food labelled British even if the ingredients were grown abroad.

This is a fraud on consumers.

A fraud which Labour refuse to stop.

A fraud we will end.

A fraud made worse because Nick Brown's too weak to stop sub-standard food entering Britain.

Like the poultry produced in the Far East using growth-promoting drugs banned in Europe on health grounds.

Last year the European Commission found some French livestock was fed on human sewage.

But when I demanded that British consumers should be protected Nick Brown did nothing.

Is there a single person in this hall who believes that if it had been British farmers feeding their animals human sewage, Labour would not have cracked down?

But when it's a French farmer Nick Brown's the farmer's friend.

The Minister who lets British consumers eat sub-standard food - as long as it's produced abroad.

The Minister who lets British farmers be destroyed by unfair competition.

But it isn't only farmers and consumers that Labour is betraying.

It's the environment, too.

Labour's shambolic handling of GM crop trials threatens the integrity of organic and conventional farmers alike.

And they're rushing ahead with commercial planting regardless of the effect on wildlife.

In July I launched our policy document "A Fair Deal for Farmers".

At its heart is our belief that the job of farmers is producing high quality food for British consumers.

As well as looking after our rural environment.

"A Fair Deal for Farmers" is full of positive ideas.

Common sense ideas.

Deliverable ideas.

A retirement scheme for tenant farmers, like those Philip Cochrane and I met two weeks ago in Stafford, the seat Philip will represent in the next Parliament.

A common standard for organic food so consumers know that items labelled organic mean what they say wherever they come from.

Planning guidance to make it easier to reuse old farm buildings for new small businesses.

These policies will be introduced in the first months of the next Conservative government.

Along with lower fuel taxes so country people can afford to use their cars.

Honesty in labelling so mums and dads know what they're giving the kids.

Less red tape so farmers can get on with what they're good at instead of filling in forms in triplicate.

An end to substandard imports so we can trust all the food we eat.

So competition is free and fair instead of being loaded against British producers.

"A Fair Deal for Farmers" also sets out our commitment to sweeping reform of the Common Agricultural Policy, which has failed consumers, failed taxpayers, failed farmers, and failed the environment.

Farm policy must move more towards the market.

But it must also reflect the unique nature of the industry and its impact on the environment.

If agriculture declines the fabric of our countryside is damaged, wildlife suffers, and the rural economy gets weaker.

So I've got a message for Tony Blair.

Instead of banning hunting he should be tackling the real issues.

Instead of raising fuel taxes he should be helping rural business.

Instead of building all over the green fields he should be protecting the environment.

Instead of shutting down the post offices he should be breathing life into villages.

Instead of stripping the countryside of policemen he should be tackling rural crime.

Instead of introducing the right to roam he should be defending private property.

But Labour have had their chance.

And they've squandered it.

And the last few weeks have shown voters know that too.

The seeds of Tony Blair's downfall have been sown in rural communities up and down the land.

A winter crop which will yield a rich harvest.

A harvest of new Conservative MPs.

Who understand farming.

Who care for the countryside.

When the election comes rural Britain will deliver a damning verdict on Labour and its Liberal Democrat lackeys.

Because they're fed up with all the broken promises.

Fed up with the arrogance and the lies and the spin.

Fed up with a Government that says it's listening but goes on lecturing.

Fed up with Ministers who preach to us about the environment as they cruise in their chauffeur driven gas-guzzling limos.

Fed up with the highest fuel taxes in Europe, with queues at the pumps and buses that are cancelled.

Fed up with a Government that let's terrorist murderers out of jail but wants to imprison people who go hunting.

Fed up with the billions wasted on spin-doctors salaries and Dome bail outs while pennies are denied to disabled people and pensioners.

Fed up with a Government that is soft on crime cuts the police force.

Fed up with a Government that says taxes are going down when we all know they are going up.

So whether it takes eighteen days, or eighteen weeks, or eighteen months.

With your help this Conservative Opposition is going to drive Tony and his cronies out of Downing Street and save Britain's countryside before it's too late.

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