Jack Cunningham – 1997 Labour Party Conference Speech

Below is the text of a speech made by the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Jack Cunningham, to the 1997 Labour Party conference in 1997.

British interests in Europe encompass agriculture, fisheries and food. Our ability to change the Common Agricultural Policy, ensure a sustainable future for our fishing industry, and provide safe, affordable, properly labelled food is determined by our standing in the European Union.

We inherited a shambles from the Tories on Europe – credibility and trust were at rock bottom. – the BSE crisis – the appalling consequences of new variant CJD, we express our deepest sympathy to the families who have lost loved ones, – the ban on British beef – the quota hopping fiasco in fishing.

The cost of this Tory incompetence runs to billions of pounds to taxpayers, industry, farmers and fishermen alike.

We have begun to turn things around by developing a constructive, open dialogue with the Commission, the Council of Ministers and the European Parliament. Progress has been made but much remains to be done.

Today I can announce the formal submission to the European Commission of a date based export scheme for British Beef. This we hope will operate in parallel with the Export Certified Herd Scheme.

We have started a dialogue with fishermen about creating a sustainable fishing industry for Britain. I want to thank in particular colleagues in the European Parliament and Neil Kinnock for their advice and support.

We said we would establish a new, more effective role for Britain in Europe and we have done so.

Reform too is necessary in the Ministry of Agriculture.

We have made a rapid start. I have put the health and well-being of people and the environment at the top of my agenda.

We have begun the establishment of a new independent food standards agency. Open consultation with everyone concerned is guiding the drafting of our White Paper. I expect the necessary legislation to follow next year.

We intend to rebuild people’s confidence in our food, through open debate, clearer, more informative labelling and more rigorous hygiene standards.

We have accepted and will implement the recommendations of the Pennington Report.

I shall appoint a consumer representative to every advisory committee.

New powers including custodial sentences available to the courts await anyone proved to have undermined Britain by illegally exporting British beef before the ban is lifted. If food plants persistently fall short of acceptable hygiene standards they will be closed.

We now have reform of the Common Agricultural Policy on the European agenda. Change is essential. The CAP wastes billions of pounds of European taxpayers’ money. It does not ensure a sustainable environment and results in higher food prices.

We are working to build coalitions for change which will benefit consumers, farmers and the environment.

Last week I was the first UK Minister of Agriculture ever to address the organic food conference of the Soil Association. I want to see resources from the CAP transferred to organic farming and to investment in rural enterprise.

We have made progress too for the first time having animals recognised as sentient beings in all future European legislation. We have introduced better controls for the welfare of animals in transit.

We are promoting the export of meat rather than livestock – more manifesto commitments delivered.

In Europe too we must find a solution to the WTO decision on the banana regime. Surely the powerful nations of the world can find a way to resolve this situation.

I shall do everything possible to meet our historic obligations to these people during my term as President of the Council of Agriculture Ministers and beyond.

In the Ministry of Agriculture we are delivering our manifesto commitments to the British people:

through a more open, redirected department

through strengthened consumer involvement

with a more productive relationship in Europe

by tackling reform of the CAP

by driving up food hygiene standards

by insisting on better animal welfare.

New Labour is the real party of the countryside. We now represent more rural constituencies than the Tories and the Liberals put together.

And I can make one further commitment today.

It is time to take a fresh look at our quarantine laws. I am therefore establishing an independent scientific assessment of all the alternatives. This discussion document is published today and a full public consultation will follow.

I want to create a department that can tackle the challenges of the new Millennium. To produce safe food and safeguard the environment for all our people. An open, accessible department which is trusted by consumers, environmentalists and farmers alike.