HC Deb 23 July 1981 vol 9 cc486-7
12. Mr. Moate

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food when he expects the Council of Agriculture Ministers to be considering proposals for the fundamental reform of the common agricultural policy.

Mr. Peter Walker

The Council is likely to be discussing the recommended guidelines for the common agricultural policy contained in the Commission's recent report on the 30 May 1980 mandate at its meeting in October.

Mr. Moate

Did my right hon. Friend read the speech made by my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer recently, when he advocated reform of the common agricultural policy based upon a greater play of market forces both in Europe and internationally, reduced levels of real support and tougher financial disciplines comparable to those exercised on other public spending? Does my right hon. Friend agree with that fundamental approach to reform?

Mr. Walker

Of course I read with interest every speech that my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor makes. In terms of the common agricultural policy, my right hon. and learned Friend and I have worked together on these matters over the past two and a half years, and we appreciate that the rate of growth of CAP expenditure is now around half what it was under the previous Administration and, as a proportion of the budget, has fallen substantially.

Mr. Freud

Will the Minister accept that the common agricultural policy would work even better if we had some of the patriotic and bloody-minded customs officers that they have in France, Germany and Italy?

Mr. Walker

I could not in any way criticise the excellent customs officers that we have in this country.

Mr. Newens

Will the right hon. Gentleman take note that the British glasshouse growers feel a deep sense of betrayal and cannot wait for this reform to take place, because they have to compete against Dutch growers who are enjoying an advantage of between £7,000 and £10,000 an acre? Will he note that hundreds of Lea valley growers met last night at Broxbourne and demanded that the Minister should introduce a tariff immediately to give them an opportunity for fair competition? When small business men are up in arms about this, is it not time that this Government, who said that they were going to do something about small business men, got moving?

Mr. Walker

Yes. That is why this Government, unlike the previous Government, gave a grant to our glasshouse growers and that is why we succeeded in enforcing on the Dutch a substantial increase in their gas price. If the hon. Gentleman is complaining now, that is nothing like the complaints that he should have had during the period in which his own Government were in office.

Mr. Body

In view of what my right hon. Friend said a few moments ago, is it now his considered opinion that in the foreseeable future there will be a uniformity of national aids throughout the Common Market?

Mr. Walker

When one uses the word "uniformity", one must bear in mind that we have in this country, for example, the substantial ADAS advisory services that other countries do not have; we have a system of capital grants that other countries do not have. Therefore, I do not accept direct conformity on every detail. However, all our national aids are approved by the Commission. What I object to is one particular country—France—putting in £400 million to £500 million of national aids that are not approved by the Commission.

Mr. Torney

In view of the impending disaster in the poultry and horticulture industries in this country, largely due to the question of national aids which is being discussed this afternoon, will the Minister ensure that action is taken very quickly in the reform of the common agricultural policy to see that national aids benefit Britain as well as France and other countries? If not, will he take some unilateral action about national aids?

Mr. Walker

Yes. That is why, at the first Council meeting of the British Presidency, we obtained the agreement of the Commission that during the period of the British Presidency the Commission would have to present to the Council of Ministers a full and detailed paper on national aids. That is why my right hon. Friend the Minister of State obtained an assurance that within days, because of the failure of the French Government to comply with European requirements on national aids, the Commission would be taking action.