§ 2. Mr. David Cameron (Witney)
If he will make a statement on the state of the farming industry in Wales. 
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Don Touhig)
My right hon. Friend and I have regular meetings with the First Minister, and I meet Assembly Ministers and Ministers from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to discuss a variety of issues, including the Welsh farming industry.
§ Mr. Cameron
I thank the Minister for that answer, but what discussions have he and the Secretary of State had with farmers in Wales about the latest diktat from Brussels, whereby all horses, ponies and donkeys must have passports, which are to be carried with them at all times? Is the Minister aware that this crazy bureaucracy 665 has come about because the French want to know whether equine drugs are entering the food chain? Will he make the strongest possible representations to Brussels to stop this nonsense and tell the French that British horse owners will not stomach extra paperwork just to satisfy their deeply unsatisfactory eating habits?
§ Mr. Touhig
Far be it from me to comment on the eating habits of our friends and neighbours across the channel. I take account of the point that the hon. Gentleman makes, and I am sure that it will be brought to the attention of my colleagues at DEFRA. Welsh farmers have had a tough time, as we all know, but I was pleased to see the recent report from the Farmers Union of Wales that shows increased confidence in farming in Wales and a 40 per cent. increase in farming incomes. That is a good move in the right direction.
§ Lembit Öpik (Montgomeryshire)
The Farmers Union of Wales has also highlighted the fact that the 20-day rule has added to the heavy bureaucratic burden that farmers in Wales and across the country have to deal with. Since the Welsh Assembly has not got the powers to address the bureaucratic burden and paperwork, is the Minister willing to accept a submission that may help him to have a debate with DEFRA to try to reduce that work load so that farmers can do what they want to do—farm?
§ Mr. Touhig
I am always happy to receive submissions from the hon. Gentleman. I think that he has made quite a few to me since I have been in this job.
On the 20-day standstill, we are trying to achieve a balance between risk and free trade. The standstill has been relaxed several times in the past year or so. The Government must consider the risk assessment and cost-benefit analysis, and take account of scientific and veterinary advice. Until that process is complete, it is not possible to give any undertaking about changing the standstill period.
§ Mr. Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy)
May I, through the hon. Gentleman, congratulate the Secretary of State on having done rather well despite being a South African?
On a slightly more serious note, I want to return to the 20-day rule. This Government are proud of the partnership with the National Assembly. Given that the National Assembly is adamant across the political spectrum that the 20-day rule is ruinous to Welsh agriculture, is it not time for Ministers to speak up for Welsh farming in Cabinet, reflect the views of people in the National Assembly, who have been voted in by the people of Wales, and do something about the crisis in Welsh agriculture?
§ Mr. Touhig
Of course, if the hon. Gentleman's party had its way, there would be no Welsh voice in Cabinet or in this Parliament. Discussions are under way between colleagues in my office, DEFRA and the National Assembly in seeking, with the industry in Wales, to try to overcome some of the problems that farming faces, especially in terms of the 20-day rule. We would further complicate the whole process by simply making a decision to reduce the period without proper evidence. 666 When we have the proper scientific evidence, and the risk assessment and cost-benefit analysis are completed, we will be in a position to take a decision.
§ Mr. Touhig
The hon. Gentleman asks when. When we have that information, it will be proper to take the decision. It would be irresponsible to do so without that evidence.
§ Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley)
The Minister is being disingenuous in saying that incomes have risen by 40 per cent. He knows that they started from a very low level and that the average farming income is less than £10,000 a year, while some highland livestock farmers earn less than £4,000. Farming communities are still reeling from low incomes and escalating costs, but we have learned that objective 1 money that was intended for farming communities may well be clawed back because it is not going to be spent. Will he have talks with his Welsh Assembly colleagues to ensure that the bureaucracy that surrounds the objective 1 money, which acts like a dead hand, is lifted from the schemes? Will he guarantee that no money directed towards these poor farming communities will be clawed back by Brussels this year?
§ Mr. Touhig
I take the hon. Gentleman's point. Yes, I accept that farming incomes have risen from a very low point, but that is a move in the right direction. The FUW survey showed that 52 per cent. of farmers in Wales are planning to invest in new machinery, stock and infrastructure on their farms, which is again a good signal. I understand his point, but as far as this Government are concerned, in partnership with our colleagues in the National Assembly, we have no intention of handing any money back to Brussels; it will all be spent.
§ Mr. Evans
One reason why farming incomes declined so disastrously last year was the outbreak of foot and mouth. There is no way the farming community could withstand another outbreak of foot and mouth.
The Minister will know that new rules on the importation of meat and other food products came into force on 1 January this year. Will he tell the House what action has been taken to publicise those new rules about the importation of meat and foodstuffs into the United Kingdom and what extra resources are going into providing the extra manpower and sniffer dogs that will be necessary to make our ports of entry secure?
§ Mr. Touhig
We have to accept that DEFRA and our colleagues in the Assembly, in close contact with the farming unions in Wales, will ensure that all the appropriate information gets to farmers directly. It is important that we take every opportunity to ensure that they are aware of any changes. My experience, on the basis of knowing farmers in my constituency, is that farmers are very well up to speed on these matters and know what is happening.