Oral Answers to Questions — Agriculture, Fisheries and Food – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 22nd January 1987.
asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what was achieved during his presidency of the Council of Agriculture Ministers.
asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what progress in the reform of the common agricultural policy was made during his presidency of the Council of Agriculture Ministers.
The Council in December took an important step towards the necessary reform of the common agricultural policy. During the course of our presidency the Council also agreed on a number of measures contributing to the completion of the internal market.
Will my right hon. Friend accept warm congratulations from Conservative Members on his success in securing further steps towards realism in the common agricultural policy? With regard to recent proposals for a two-tier pricing system for cereals, does my right hon. Friend agree that while a social policy for European agriculture is necessary, if it is to be acceptable and equitable it cannot be based on the sort of flat rate concept that appears to be advocated by the right hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen), but must be tailored to the particular circumstances and structures of each member state?
My hon. Friend has made his point accurately. If the policies outlined by the alliance leader the other day were put into effect, 75 per cent. of the Community's grain production would qualify for the full support price, but in the United Kingdom only 30 per cent. would qualify.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that, as well as being a successful start to tackling the problem of surpluses, his set-aside scheme has a welcome environmental impact?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for what he has said, because in December we agreed, among other things, the general principles of the socio-structural package, which opens the door much further than before to the implementation of our ideas for putting land aside from producing grain that we can neither eat nor sell.
Why was there no mention in the Minister of State's statement on that agreement to the House on 17 December of the fact that the bulk of the saving in the milk sector will come from delayed reimbursement to member states of the cost of disposing of surplus dairy produce? There is not a word about that. Why did the Minister seek to mislead the House on that important issue when more than 100 per cent. of the saving is being thrust on to member states and is not a net saving to the policy?
I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman says that. If he looks at Hansard he will see that my right hon. Friend made it clear in his statement of 17 December that the cost of the additional programme of stock disposal for butter would be met over the four years beginning in 1989. The provision in the proposed budgets for 1987 and 1988 for those disposals will not, therefore, be used. That will result in a saving this year and next. From 1989 there will be large and increasing savings to the budget as a result of the milk package, even when the certificate of disposals has been met.
Will the Minister consider the plight of beef suckler cow producers? Will he match the £6 that he obtained from the Community with the £6 that he is allowed to give per head on the beef suckler cow premium in Britain? In particular, will he reverse his decision on hill livestock compensatory allowances for beef suckler cows?
We shall certainly consider the hon. Gentleman's point on the suckler cow subsidy, although we have already made our announcement about the hill livestock compensatory amounts. I am not surprised that the hon. Gentleman is pitching his question about beef when everybody else is particularly interested in his party's policy on grain.
I sincerely congratulate my right hon. Friend on his tremendous achievement in the EEC, but what does he believe the fall in the value per carcase of beef will be over the next couple of years? It is estimated by some people that it will be £50 per carcase. Will he do anything to fill the gap for those two years so that we do not lose our stock of beef up to that point?
I remind the hon. Gentleman that some tough steps were taken with regard to the beef sector, which has been costing an enormous amount of money and considerably overreached last year's beef budget. I remind my hon. Friend that as part of the settlement that we achieved in December we managed to obtain a 6 per cent. devaluation of the green pound for beef. By the harmonisation of bull and steer prices, that figure was equivalent to a price rise for British beef producers of about another 3 per cent. The effect of the weakening of intervention, which has always been a system barely used in Britain compared with other countries—2 per cent. in Britain compared with 25 per cent. for beef in Ireland—puts the hon. Gentleman's point in rather better perspective.
Necessary as the 17 December decisions were as a start, will the Minister confirm that that merely cuts the overrun on the agricultural budget from 3·5 mecu to 2·5 mecu next year?
Yes, I would not attempt to deny that the hon. Gentleman is entirely right, but we still have a long way to go to deal with the danger of overspending on the agricultural budget during 1987. No doubt Ministers will be very much applying their minds to that during the price-fixing negotiations in the next few weeks.
Will my right hon. Friend say a little more about the set-aside proposals? What form will they take, and when are decisions likely to be made? In particular, will my right hon. Friend accept that there should be a voluntary element in any scheme, whereby farmers with good land are able to participate just as well as those with poor land?
Yes, we have always envisaged that our scheme would be voluntary at farm level, but that the whole scheme must be compulsorily available in each country within the Community. We believe that it should be available for any farmers who feel that it would be in the interests to take it. However, I envisage that farmers who find grain-growing to be at only marginal levels of profitability would find it more attractive.