HC Deb 06 March 1986 vol 93 cc429-32
4. Mr. Eastham

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will seek to ensure that the price proposals agreed by the Counicl of Ministers encourage a reduction in surplus commodities within the common agricultural policy.

11. Mr. Hardy

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what changes in agricultural policy he is seeking in order to respond to the present and prospective levels of food production in the United Kingdom and the European Community.

The Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. John Selwyn Gummer)

In order to tackle the problems of the CAP we are seeking in this year's price negotiations and over a period of years to secure price proposals and other measures to limit the production of surplus commodities and the burden that they place on the budget.

Mr. Eastham

I am glad the Minister recognises that there are serious problems in the CAP. May I remind him that in Europe in 1985 we had surpluses of 10.5 million tonnes of wheat, 2 million tonnes of barley, 0.5 million tonnes of beef and 1 million tonnes of butter? What does the Minister propose to do to remove these surpluses? Can he not give them to the pensioners or pass them on to the Third world?

Mr. Gummer

No one who has followed any of the speeches, comments or work done by Ministers could possibly ignore the fact that we want to reduce these surpluses. The hon. Gentleman would make a great deal more fuss if there was shortage of food.

Mr. Hardy

Is the Minister aware of the deep and intensifying anxiety which is felt in the farming community, which has been illustrated by the substantial fall of 40 per cent. in the price of land in some areas? Is he aware that farmers believe that his right hon. Friend is guilty of serious intertia, which was illustrated during the previous Question Time when he said that he had been looking at the matter urgently for months?

Mr. Gummer

I do not think that the farmers would hold that view. They know perfectly well that we are now living in a world of surplus, rather than of shortage, and if the hon. Gentleman looks back at his Government's performance he will see that they did nothing to prepare the country for it.

Mr. Colin Shepherd

Will my right hon. Friend recognise that the farming industry is worried that it might be unreasonably discriminated against in the search to find ways in which the surpluses can be reduced? Will he take special care in his negotiations in Brussels to ensure that British agriculture is not disadvantaged?

Mr. Gummer

My hon. Friend has put his finger on one aspect which has to be part of the negotiations. It is right to expect the farming industry throughout Europe to bear the burden of dealing with surpluses. The burden must be borne fairly. It must not land unfairly on the backs of farmers in Britain compared with what happens to their neighbours in Europe.

Mr. Jackson

Does my right hon. Friend consider that the recent downward movement of the dollar could count as an exceptional circumstance?

Mr. Gummer

I do not believe that we can solve the problems of agriculture unless we are prepared to adhere to the financial guidelines which have been agreed.

Mr. Foulkes

What action is the Minister taking within the Council of Ministers to stop the dumping of subsidised surpluses in Third world countries? Is he aware that sugar is being sold below the market price in Jamaica, thus causing great devastation to the economy of that country and making it much more difficult for countries such as Jamaica to repay their debts?

Mr. Gummer

The hon. Gentleman should be a little more careful about the detail of what is happening to the sugar market in Jamaica and other countries, because the situation is much more complicated than he suggests. I hope that he will have a word with his hon. Friend the hon. Member for Manchester, Blackley (Mr. Eastham) about the supply of surpluses to developing countries.

Mr. Philip Oppenheim

Can my right hon. Friend arrange for a study trip to he organised for Labour Members who complain about surpluses? I suggest that there should he a study trip to examine food production in the Soviet Union, where I understand they have overcome the problems of surpluses quite successfully.

Mr. Gummer

My hon. Friend is right. Almost every major part of the world produces enough food to feed its people, except the Soviet Union and the Soviet bloc, which are incompetent.

Mr. Torney

Will the Minister consider instituting research into breadmaking wheat, so that it can be grown in Britain instead of being imported from abroad, and so reduce the massive surpluses of cereals in this country and in the Common Market generally?

Mr. Gummer

The hon. Gentleman is a little behind the times, and he does down the previous Labour Government. Over the past few years the Chorley Wood process has made it possible for us to use to a large extent breadmaking wheat which has been grown in Britain. It is only the particularly bad weather of this year that has meant that the quality of our wheat, unusually, has not been suitable for breadmaking, and as a consequence we have had to import suitable wheat.

Mr. Torney

indicated dissent.

Mr. Gummer

The hon. Gentleman may shake his head, but it is clear that he does not know the facts.

Mr. Budgen

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that no matter how much the dollar falls and thus creates greater expenditure in disposing of surpluses, this will not be used by the Government as an excuse for asking for an increase in the VAT contribution to the EEC?

Mr. Gummer

My hon. Friend is the last person in the House to demand that any member of the Government answer a question which begins, "No matter what happens to something, will he confirm?" I shall therefore not confirm.

Mr. Skinner

Is the Minister aware that one reason for the chaos in the CAP is all the fiddling and fraud that takes place in the Common Market? Is he further aware that last night the Minister of State, Treasury admitted that the Mafia was being investigated because it was saying that there were so many hundred olive trees in Italy, when they existed on paper only? Is he aware also that Northern Irish farmers are sending cattle across the border so many times in order to get increased export rebates that the cattle almost know the way themselves?

Mr. Gummer

It must be an amazement to the House that the hon. Gentleman belongs to a party which had a reputation for being internationalist. His constant attacks on anyone who happens to live abroad are becoming bywords.

Mr. Marlow

In which areas in which the Community is currently in surplus does my right hon. Friend expect surpluses to be reduced this year?

Mr. Gummer

One would not expect changes in agriculture to take place rapidly. Any one who understands the farming industry realises that the crops for this year have already been planted. Therefore, my hon. Friend will accept that the changes that will be made, and the attack on the surplus that will take place, cannot result in a change in this year's harvest.

Mr. Deakins

Will the Minister condemn the European Commission for putting forward price proposals which break the financial guidelines which the House was told by the Government last year were binding on the Council and the Commission?

Mr. Gummer

We are in the business of winning the point. We have to solve the problems of surpluses within the financial guidelines laid down and within the competence of British farmers to provide their fair share of the burden. I am not one of those who go around condemning what has been done. I am seeking an answer.

Mr. Livsey

Does the Minister agree that one of the most effective ways of controlling surpluses is through variable premiums, such as is used in the beef sector? Can he assure us that the beef variable premium will be negotiated successfully at this round?

Mr. Gummer

As we are in the business of negotiating the kind of assurance which the hon. Gentleman wishes in advance, he cannot expect me to sum it up in those words. We are going into these negotiations intending, as we have in the past, to defend the beef variable premium, which is of great importance to the British farmer.

Mr. John

Will the Minister tell the House, in whatever time scale crops need to be harvested, whether cereal surpluses will come down within the next three years?

Mr. Gummer

It is the Government's firm intention to fight for policies which will bring down cereal surpluses, not just in three years, but as soon as possible. That means that we must start on it now. The hon. Gentleman must accept—

Mr. Torney

We want facts.

Mr. Gummer

The hon. Gentleman asks for facts, but one of the facts of farming life is that one does not know what the weather will be like. It shows how little Opposition Members know about agriculture. The fact is that surpluses can be fundamentally altered by whether or not we have a good grain growing period.