On 23 and 24 November, the Agriculture Council issued a report to the Vienna European Council which identified the main outstanding issues of the CAP reform proposals and expressed its determination to reach conclusions on the package as a whole by March 1999.
There will be substantial benefits for consumers if we are able to achieve even the Commission's package. Further down the line, there are substantial benefits for taxpayers as well. The benefits for consumers will derive from cheaper food and the benefits for the taxpayers will derive from a diminished subsidy regime.
One of the changes to the CAP that the Minister may well be considering is new requirements for record keeping and identification of sheep. Is he aware that, in the north-west of England, there is great concern about the speed with which he wishes to embrace the proposals, especially as sheep producers have already agreed to a voluntary arrangement to improve the identification and marking of sheep? Will the Minister consider carefully the representations from the National Farmers Union in the north-west on that matter? What room for manoeuvre is there to make the new requirements compatible with the United Kingdom sheep industry?
I always consider representations from the NFU carefully. I am keen to establish a good working relationship with it and others who represent the interests of the farming community, the food industry and the broader interests of rural Britain. It is clear that the right hon. Gentleman is not following the Agenda 2000 discussions quite so closely as I thought that he was, because the sheep regime is outside the scope of the Agenda 2000 proposals.