Parliament 5th June 2015

MPs were canvassed last week on the problems faced by hill farmers, which campaigners say are becoming more acute. The future of the country’s uplands was ‘on a knife edge’, MPs were told: producers are getting older, many farming families have no identified successor, and they face economic, political, climatic and environmental constraints.

One of the more receptive on this issue is Rory Stewart (Con, Penrith and The Border), a former diplomat and academic (once a summer tutor to the young Royal princes) who is the new Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. He has been a stout campaigner for the safeguarding of the long-term future of the country’s small family hill farms and says their numbers had halved over the last 25 years.

The motion on uplands farming was tabled by Bridgwater and West Somerset MP Ian Liddell-Grainger.

Kevin Brennan (Lab, Cardiff West) was the first to raise the foxhunting issue in the House of Commons. When will we see the bill promised in Government time on the repeal of the foxhunting ban? “It would enable us not only to flush out those government members who, like many of us, do not support the repeal of the ban, but to work out the Scottish National Party’s position. Apparently, it is that SNP members will not – possibly – vote against the repeal because the cruelty in question is to animals in England and Wales, rather than animals in Scotland.”

Chris Grayling (Con, Epsom and Ewell, and now Leader of the House of Commons) responded: “There is a clear commitment from this Government that the matter will be voted on. We will bring forward our plans in due course. SNP MPs will of course have to decide about the rights and wrongs of voting on the matter in our constituencies where we have no ability to vote on the same matters in their constituencies.”

Up in Scotland, Glasgow-based First Milk CEO Mike Gallacher, with his Scottish director Jim Baird, was hauled in front of the Scottish Parliament’s Rural Affairs committee last week. He reiterated his view that First Milk needed to focus on its core business and cut costs to get a “better outcome” for its farmers. He promised “very clear business plans” for the next few years, admitting that the prices the British co-op was paying its members were “unacceptable”. “We’re left seriously wondering if First Milk is going to be a going concern for Scottish famers in the next two or three years,” said committee convener Rob Gibson.

Mr Gallacher was also challenged over the £90,000 a year (about £1,800 a day) paid to part-time chairman and former Tory minister Sir Jim Paice, when suppliers were getting rock bottom prices and supporting the business through capital retentions. Mr Gallacher argued that the fee had been “democratically agreed and externally validated”.

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