Oral Answers to Questions — Environment, Food and Rural Affairs – in the House of Commons at 11:30 am on 27th June 2002.
If she will make a statement on progress towards the reform of the CAP.
We expect the European Commission to publish its proposals for reform of the CAP on
I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. Everyone now supports reform of the CAP, which is failing taxpayers and consumers. It is an important reason why we are delaying the entry of the new entrants to the EU. The environment is not doing well, while the CAP does not seem even to be supporting farmers' incomes. If we cannot have radical reform, is there not a case for abolishing the CAP, certainly as it is at the moment.
My hon. Friend conditions his question by saying, "certainly as it is at the moment," but the point is that we want radical reform of the CAP. We are urging the Commission to publish radical proposals, and we are pushing for—for example—a shift in support under pillar one from production subsidies to environmental and rural development measures. Such changes have proved their value through the England rural development programme. We have made it clear that that direction—which is supported by the Curry commission report, and by other countries that want reform—is the right one to take. Let us hope that all other European countries support us in that.
As the right hon. Gentleman said, the Commission is publishing its proposals for the mid-term review on
The Curry commission report provides a framework for reforming agriculture in this country, and we are looking to the Commission to introduce proposals on the direction of CAP reform. What would help is a significant increase in the UK's share of pillar two funding. As the right hon. Gentleman knows, such funding has historically been low—a fact for which the Conservative party is responsible. However, the most important thing is to examine the statement, and let us hope that it is as radical as this country and some of our reform partners want it to be.
My right hon. Friend may be aware that, this week, the report of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals on the future of farming was published. On CAP reform, it points out that Agenda 2000 kept in place too many subsidies that are detrimental to animal welfare, that pillar one payments should have animal welfare conditions attached, and that pillar two payments should reward producers who maintain higher animal welfare standards—many of whom are, of course, in the United Kingdom. Will my right hon. Friend support those proposals as part of the negotiations?
My hon. Friend is aware of the Government's enthusiasm for improving animal welfare standards across Europe, and he is right to point to the importance of doing so. That is one way of achieving a level playing field, and the decoupling of direct livestock payments from production will assist in that regard, and in terms of addressing the environmental impact of farming.
During last week's mass lobby on fair trade, much emphasis was placed on reform of the CAP to allow third-world farmers to get a fair price for their products in world markets. What discussions has the Minister had with the Department for International Development to ensure that such reform achieves fair prices for third-world farmers?
We want to improve not only the working of the CAP, but of the world trade round. That was made clear in Doha, where my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State took a leading role in pushing for such change. The danger of building unfairness into the system is clear to us, and we want to see it improved.
Both of those issues are being pursued in parallel, so the answer to my hon. Friend's question is yes.
I encourage the Minister to use the mid-term CAP renegotiations to put forward positive British proposals on issues that are of benefit to our own agricultural sector. For example, as he knows, British consumers and farmers alike find it immensely frustrating that we are unwilling, or unable, to ban the import of meat and meat products from countries where foot and mouth and other such diseases are endemic. The Government's argument has always been that such a ban would not be permissible under European law. Will the Minister therefore make it an objective of British policy in the negotiations to make whatever changes are needed to those European trade laws so that, in future, we are able to ban the import of meat and meat products from all countries where foot and mouth disease is endemic?
We certainly want to have a level standard for imports. However, we do not want to introduce controls that would be impractical or inoperable in terms of market movements. The hon. Gentleman is, however, right to suggest that we should do all we can to achieve a level playing field and consistent standards with our European partners. We will also do all we can to push for radical proposals to reform the CAP to ensure that our farmers are assisted. That is why we want to see an increase in the UK's share of pillar two funding and to see the other changes for which we have argued.