HC Deb 14 March 1985 vol 75 cc435-8

The following questions stood upon the Order Paper:

2. Mr. Gavin Strang (Edinburgh, East)

To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what is Her Majesty's Government's policy towards the European Commission's latest agricultural price proposals and package; and if he will make a statement on the progress made to date by the Council of Agriculture Ministers in considering those proposals.

5. Mr. Michael Latham (Rutland and Melton)

To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what is the latest position regarding the progress of the Common Market price negotiations.

The Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. Michael Jopling)

I refer the hon. Members to the reply I gave yesterday to my hon. Friend the Member for Torridge and Devon, West (Sir P. Mills) on the outcome of the meeting of the Council of Agriculture Ministers earlier this week.

Mr. Strang

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the announcement that the Council is prepared to fund the conservation of wildlife in our rural areas is welcome in principle? Can we have an assurance that we shall have an end to the payments under management agreement that involve paying out large sums of money to landowners, on some occasions indefinitely, not to plough up land or do something else to it that they have no intention of doing anyway? Will he give us an assurance that money is not being used for that purpose?

Mr. Jopling

The intention of this power, which we have been given with the blessing of the Council of Ministers and the Commission, is to ensure that where traditional forms of agriculture are endangered they can be preserved. I do not know what the hon. Gentleman is going on about. I remember that, at the end of the time when the Labour Government were in power, they attempted to take legislative steps to do the same thing on Exmoor.

Mr. Latham

Why did yesterday's long answer contain no suggestion that Ministers intend to press for the total abolition of the milk co-responsibility levy? Has not this impost long since lost all meaning with the new quota regime?

Mr. Jopling

I have always made it very clear to the Council of Ministers and the House that I believe that if it is the intention to help dairy farmers a much better way to do so is by reducing the co-responsibility levy —which is ineffective — rather with giving them price increases.

Dr. David Clark (South Shields)

With regard to the environmental aspect of the Minister's statement, as we shall have to enact legislation to obtain EC money, and as the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and her colleagues defeated clause 4 of my Private Member's Bill, which would have permitted that, will the Minister accept my invitation to reinstate clause 4 on Report?

Mr. Jopling

I understand that the Committee, for what I believe are extremely good reasons, decided to delete a clause from the hon. Gentleman's Private Member's Bill and it is not intended to reinstate it. He is mistaken, because the provision that was agreed on Tuesday in Brussels does not envisage, at this stage, Community money being available for these projects, although the Commission has agreed to examine within the coming months the ways in which this scheme can be brought more broadly within the Community system.

Mr. Douglas Hogg (Grantham)

Does my right hon. Friend agree that we are clearly moving away from the policy objectives of the past 20 years, aimed at maximising production? Would it not be helpful to the farming community if my right hon. Friend could state, within the context of the CAP negotiations, what exactly are his policy objectives and those of his Department and farming generally in this country?

Mr. Jopling

I have made the Government's policy objectives on the current price-fixing clear. I hope that I shall have another opportunity to explain them soon. We shall hear what my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House says shortly. My hon. Friend is right; we are no longer looking for maximum production. We have major, damaging and expensive surpluses. The Government want a new sense of realism in the CAP so that the growth of those surpluses can be controlled properly.

Mr. Nigel Spearing (Newham, South)

In respect of that realism, does the Minister agree that the first possible date for evaluating the effect of the disciplinary system on agricultural prices cannot be before March 1987, because the first crop year to which it will apply is 1986–87?

Mr. Jopling

The hon. Gentleman is right to mention the new feature of our negotiation, which is covered by the budgetary discipline and financial guidelines agreed at Fontainebleau. Those powers and constraints became effective for the first time on Tuesday in Brussels with regard to the new structures directive. We were given guidance by the ECOFIN Council to keep within 5.25 billion ecu. We succeeded.

Mr. Tony Marlow (Northampton, North)

Would my right hon. Friend like to take this opportunity to tell his partners in the Community that he will not accept the package of measures, which alter significantly the nature or the level of the beef variable premium scheme? If he is not prepared to do that, does he realise that many farmers will be deeply worried?

Mr. Jopling

My hon. Friend has heard me say outside the Chamber in the past 24 hours that we shall do everything possible to attain the continuance of the beef variable premium scheme.

Mr. Robert Maclennan (Caithness and Sutherland)

What additional resources will be put into the British hills and upland sector as a result of the structures package?

Mr. Jopling

The new structures package gives a scheme which runs another five years after the previous five-year scheme. It is business as usual for assistance that can be drawn on for hills and uplands.

Mr. Kenneth Carlisle (Lincoln)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that his efforts to win CAP money for the conservation of the countryside and its protection merit praise? Will he persevere in those efforts and carry them through to success?

Mr. Jopling

I am grateful for my hon. Friend's kind words. It is our continuing objective to get Community money as part of these schemes. At the moment, the arrangement is that they can be funded only nationally. I assure my hon. Friend that we shall continue in our endeavours.

Mr. D. N. Campbell-Savours (Workington)

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that clause 4 of the Wildlife and Countryside (Amendment) Bill introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark) is indistinguishable from the stance that the right hon. Gentleman has negotiated in the Community? If he agrees, why does he not accpet clause 4? By rejecting it, he is merely undermining the agreement that he has negotiated and which the public relations people in his Department have spent the past 24 hours advocating as a great win for the British Government.

Mr. Jopling

The hon. Gentleman might not think that this is a successful move, but many conservation bodies throughout the country have applauded it warmly and welcomed what we have achieved. As for the clause that the hon. Gentleman mentioned, I invite him to go away and read what my hon. Friend the Minister said on Second Reading, and the rest of the debate. He will see that there are two quite separate issues here and that the reasons for voting out the clause were extremely good.

Mr. Robert Adley (Christchurch)

Following the supplementary question of my hon. Friend the Member for Grantham (Mr. Hogg), may I ask whether my right hon. Friend is aware that there is considerable anxiety about people in Israeli-occupied territories, such as the citrus growers of Gaza, being denied access to the EEC for their produce while Israel, which goes rampaging around the middle east, appears to enjoy favourable terms? Will my right hon. Friend examine that matter personally?

Mr. Jopling

As my hon. Friend will know, the conduct of the negotiations for the enlargement of the Community is not my direct ministerial responsibility, but I shall draw his remarks to the attention of my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary.

Mr. Eric Deakins (Walthamstow)

Is the Minister prepared to use his veto in the Council of Agriculture Ministers, if, as seems highly likely, that Council, by a majority, decides to increase agriculture prices in the coming year far in excess of those recommended by the European Commission, and in defiance of the financial guidelines that have been recommended in the House?

Mr. Jopling

I have made my position clear, which is that I believe that there should be price restraint at this time. I have given general support to the Commission's proposals and, indeed, I have said that in some cases price reductions should be even more stringent. With regard to talking about vetoes, I am not prepared to conduct negotiations with the hon. Gentleman in the Chamber.

Mr. Brynmor John (Pontypridd)

Reverting to the structures agreement, the principles of which we agree, does the right hon. Gentleman accept that only when we see how much money is spent can we judge whether the welcome that was given overnight is justified? Is it true that we shall need primary legislation even for the national power that we now have to deal with the environment and farming? If that is true, what legislative vehicle will the right hon. Gentleman use? He has told my hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark) that he will not use my hon. Friend's Bill. What legislation will he bring forward, and when will it be brought forward, so that we may have some actual results? How much money will the right hon. Gentleman spend on that national initiative? May I finally ask him about the Community examination? Has the Community now agreed in principle— and, in particular, has the Commission agreed — that Community money should be expended on the environment, or is it merely a cursory examination, to be rejected at the end of the year?

Mr. Jopling

With regard to the money available for the structures directive, the hon. Gentleman might like to know that the Commission's original proposals were that it would cost over 8 billion ecu and we have now fitted those provisions within a budget of 5.25 billion ecu. Therefore, that is a move towards realism. We believe that it is likely that we shall need primary legislation to bring about the environmental provisions. We are not yet able to do so, and, of course, it will ultimately depend on the views of the House, in dealing with legislation, as to how much money will need to be available. With regard to the environmental schemes, the hon. Gentleman will realise that we are already using part of the funds from my Department in an experimental scheme in the Broads.