European Union (Amendment) Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 4:47 pm on 4th June 2008.

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Photo of Lord Taylor of Holbeach Lord Taylor of Holbeach Shadow Minister, Environment, Food & Rural Affairs 4:47 pm, 4th June 2008

My Lords, in speaking to Amendment No. 2, I have to declare an interest: I remain actively engaged in my family's agricultural and horticultural business. We had interesting debates on the common agricultural policy and the common fisheries policy in Committee. I make no apology for returning to these matters on Report. The common agricultural policy remains by far the largest single area of expenditure within the EU budget, and I see it as right, therefore, to seek to include this importance within the Bill, and in the new constitutional settlements which the treaty represents and for which the Bill provides.

This amendment would ensure that our Parliament receives an annual report on the state and development of both these policies and, through the affirmative resolution procedure, ensure that there is opportunity for both Houses of Parliament to discuss and debate on an annual basis progress and reform of these policies. It will require the Secretary of State to present his objectives for reform and to seek the support of Parliament to this end.

I know that my noble friend the Duke of Montrose will speak in detail on the common fisheries policy. But, as I pointed out in Committee, the common agricultural policy has almost iconic status in the history of the European Union. Other than the coal and steel community, it is the longest living relic of those early days and the idealism which lay behind the creation of the European Community.

Since that time, we have seen enormous structural and technical change. Whatever one's views, the common agricultural policy has provided the countryside, as well as farmers and growers, with some economic security during this period. It has also ensured that the consumer receives good quality food at reasonable prices. All that has changed since the last harvest and, in the eyes of most commentators, changed for good. A year ago, how much mileage would there have been in seeking to develop interest in a discussion on food security? Which pundit would have predicted the violent change in food commodity prices? Things are changing fast, and the challenge to politicians and parliamentarians is to ensure that they operate within a structure that is able to change and adapt rapidly to meet these changing times.

Nothing shows the problem more than the Commission's draft health check on the common agricultural policy, which was produced two weeks ago. We need to remember that it still needs to be approved. This will not happen until the autumn, and it may not survive unamended. This programme represents the sort of policy changes that almost all noble Lords would agree with. It reflects well the views of our own European Committee report on the future of CAP reform, chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Sewel, and which we are to debate tomorrow afternoon. However, we know that Europe's common agricultural policy is too inflexible and too hidebound by national self-interest to change fast enough. It is not unreasonable to ask what the Government are doing to force the pace of change. I remind noble Lords that the Government gave up our rebate on the promised reform of the common agricultural policy. This was against a background where the House would find noble Lords in almost complete agreement over the CAP.