§ 3. Mr. Geraint Howells
asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what talks he has had with colleagues in Europe with a view to altering proposals to pay only headage payments on a limited number of beef fattening animals.
§ The Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. John Selwyn Gummer)
At the meeting of the Agriculture Council on 24 and 25 March my right hon. Friend and I made it clear to our colleagues in the rest of Europe that we were opposed to discrimination between producers being introduced into the CAP market support arrangements.
§ Mr. Howells
I am sure the Minister will agree that the variable premium has served United Kingdom beef producers and consumers well for the past 12 years. Does he agree that it would be better to press for the retention of the present scheme than to go for the alternative headage payments scheme?
§ Mr. Gummer
We shall certainly continue to argue the merits of the variable premium scheme. The fact that the Commission is now proposing some sort of premium system is an advance, but it is a fixed premium, not a variable one. Obviously the variable one helps, because it responds to market forces much more effectively.
§ Sir Hector Monro
Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that the hill compensatory amount for the suckler cow subsidy and premium are essential to the welfare and economic progress of hill and less-favoured area farms? Will he please make every endeavour to maintain the programme that we have had in the recent past?
§ Mr. Gummer
I certainly recognise the great importance of those particular arrangements. We are determined to see that proper arrangements continue and, above all, that no arrangement is introduced for beef and ewes which will discriminate against our larger flocks and herds.
§ Mr. Marlow
Has the Commission any evidence whatever that the livestock sector and, particularly, the cattle fatteners are making an indecent level of profit? If so, what is it? What would happen if there were a restriction on the payments for livestock farmers? Would that not depress store cattle and calf prices, causing a knock-on effect on dairy producers?
§ Mr. Gummer
I am sure that the Commission does not have that evidence. It is attempting to change the regime so that the present situation, in which meat is taken into storage with the result that it immediately loses value, does not exist. The moment meat goes into cold store, value is lost. The Commission is proposing a range of changes which will take that into account. I hope that my hon. Friend will be both tough with us in determining that the solution is good for Britain, but willing to accept that the Commission is trying to produce a decent answer.