Thank you, Mr Principal Deputy Speaker. I will endeavour to conclude by 2.00 pm.
I think that I am the youngest Member to speak thus far, aside from the Minister, but I have been in politics since 1996, including during the BSE crisis and all that; I go right back to that time. I am the only Member elected here from 1998 throughout the period, so I have been through a few agriculture crises in my time — Mr Dallat has been here, too — and I have seen how people have responded over the years. During the 1996 BSE crisis, we had many meetings with the then Ministers who were dealing with the issues, and they were generally junior Ministers who were lords. I am hugely disappointed that the response from this Minister is little better than the response that we saw from the lords and baronesses who were over here as direct rule Ministers. That is harsh, but I am afraid that it is factual.
The farming community and I are sick, sore and tired of hearing what cannot be done. We cannot do the single farm payment before December because the European Commission does not allow it. Then the European Commission tells us that it is allowed: 70% of it can happen from October. However, when the Department is told that it can be done, it will not be done. There is a difference between "cannot" and "will not" do something. I am afraid that, at this point, it is more the case of will not do something —
No, I will not give way to Mr McMullan. My time is curtailed, and we have heard quite a bit from him. He has become an apologist for the inaction that has taken place. All that we get from Mr McMullan is constant criticism of DEFRA. Tell me: has DEFRA set the intervention price? Is it a British DEFRA Minister or is it an Irish commissioner in the European Union? Mr McMullan concentrates his political stabbing at the British Minister who is letting us down, but he never actually speaks about the Irish commissioner, who is letting us down more than anybody at this point. Phil Hogan is letting dairy farmers down by not raising the intervention price and by not making the case for the intervention price to be raised.
Consequently, people are suffering, and people will go out of business.
I was out in my constituency, as I am regularly, speaking to farmers. One man asked me, "Edwin, is there nothing that can be done to help us?" In my heart of hearts, I know that things that can be done to help that man — there are things — but they are not being done. The problem that I have with the Minister, the Department, DEFRA and the European Union is that there are things that can be done at every level to help the agriculture community. I am not referring purely to dairy farmers: many of the farmers in the glens of Antrim whom Mr McMullan is supposed to represent are getting badly punished when selling their lambs this year, and Mr McMullan thinks that Mrs O'Neill is doing a wonderful job.
I am getting plenty of complaints from sheep farmers about the poor prices that they are receiving. Vegetable, potato and cereal farmers are suffering as well. Right across the board, prices for produce are lower than they should be. Mrs O'Neill's great strategy is to send out dairy advisers. She is sending dairy advisers to farmers who could teach the dairy advisers what to do. When farmers in the top 10% or 15% of producers in the United Kingdom are losing money hand over fist, they do not need a dairy adviser to tell them what to do. They need cash in their pockets — not platitudes, which is what we are getting from Sinn Féin.
Many farmers are at breaking point. Farms that have been in families for generations — generations — could be sold as a consequence of the current agriculture crisis. I expect that farms will be sold on the back of what is happening. Meanwhile, the Minister's strategy is Going for Growth. It is about moving headquarters, so we will spend £40 million here and we will spend £35 million on a new computer system. That is not all. Let me make this very clear: that is not all capital spend — a considerable amount is recurrent spend, and that is where the money could come from to assist farmers. Money that is being spent recurrently on those things could be going to the farmers.
Where is the market support? Where is the opportunity to delve into hardship payments for farmers? Direct payments in October would help farmers' cash flow when they face huge bills for conacre and from agricultural contractors. Bills that all have to be settled at that time of year. The European Union is not holding the Minister back from ensuring that farmers' cash flow is improved by getting that money out earlier.
Mrs O'Neill referred to how they have been handling animal health issues. There has been an absolute failure from this Minister and the previous Minister to deal with the problem of TB — there has been a Sinn Féin Minister throughout — because they have a greater affection for badgers than for the people they are supposed to be serving.
Pig farmers should be selling their offal to China, which would be worth around £3 million a year to Northern Ireland farmers, but that is not happening because a document that was supposed to have been signed off has not been signed off. What work is going on between DEFRA and the Department to ensure that the issue gets over the line?
Enough is enough. People in the farming community need support, and they need it now. They are fed up hearing from this Minister, from her Department and from her party that they are incapable of doing anything. If they are incapable of doing the job, perhaps they should not bother doing the job.
I thank the Member for giving way. I hear all that you are saying. However, the reality is that, in effect, we are not taking one single additional penny from the Westminster Government. What we are actually doing is dipping in to the Health, Education, DSD, DRD and every other Departments' budgets and putting it into a subsidised welfare system that is not available anywhere else in the United Kingdom.
Ballinderry, Ballymacash, Ballymacbrennan, Ballymacoss, Blaris, Derryaghy, Dromara, Dromore North, Dromore South, Drumbo, Glenavy, Gransha, Harmony Hill, Hilden, Hillhall, Hillsborough, Knockmore, Lagan Valley, Lambeg, Lisnagarvey, Maghaberry, Magheralave, Maze, Moira, Old Warren, Quilly, Seymour Hill, Tonagh, Wallace Park.