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European Community (Agriculture Ministers' Meeting)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:32 pm on 25th February 1981.

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Photo of Mr Peter Walker Mr Peter Walker , Worcester 3:32 pm, 25th February 1981

First, I thank the right hon. Member for Barnsley (Mr. Mason) for his generous remarks about New Zealand butter. He knows that the New Zealand Government have welcomed the proposals. Indeed, this Government can be proud of what has been achieved. We achieved the figures and the three-year agreement in the face of opposition from France and Ireland, who were in favour of figures of 40,000 to 50,000 tonnes on a one-year basis only.

On the matter of sugar beet quotas, I did not give the fugure for Europe as a whole, because of the disagreement of the Italian Government, who are urging an increase in their A quota sugar that the Community was unwilling to give. Until that matter is settled, I am unable to give the figure. But, for the first time over Europe as a whole, sugar beet quotas will be reduced.

On the question of State aids, I believe that we are moving towards co-responsibility levies, and they can be imposed in a sensible and sane manner only if there is no distortion of State aid. I therefore welcome the Commission's decision to take proceedings against France in order to expose the extent and degree of the problem, and I hope that the Community will see that such problems do not recur.

Then there is the attitude of Ministers to the various problems of price fixing. The Presidency suggested—I think correctly—that as the proposals were published only last Friday, proper consideration could not be given until 16 March. At yesterday's meeting, France, Germany and other countries expressed their bitter hostility to a super-levy, but I believe that there must be some form of penalty on those who increase the production of goods that are in surplus. The principle is one that the British Government will support, as they did last year.

I find the Opposition's view to MCAs rather remarkable. I look forward to a clear announcement from them on the question of the degree to which they wish further to reduce British farmers' incomes. It is interesting that, at yesterday's meeting, the other countries with positive MCAs, namely, Germany and the Benelux countries, were all staunch defenders of their positive MCAs. It may be that they recognise that the eradication of the MCAs is more to the benefit of the foreign exporter than the domestic consumer. The disastrous policy of the Labour Government of negative MCAs well illustrate that.

I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman will take pleasure in the fact that the proposals for price increases in this coming review are exactly the same as the overall price increase agreed to by the Labour Government.