HC Deb 24 March 1986 vol 94 cc592-4
4. Mr. Livsey

asked the Secretary of State for Wales what representations he has received from Welsh livestock farmers about the negotiations on European Community farm prices; and if he will make a statement.

20. Sir Raymond Gower

asked the Secretary of State for Wales what representations he has received from farmers in Wales and in the area of Vale of Glamorgan council, respectively, concerning negotiations on European Economic Community farm prices; and if he will make a statement.

The Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Nicholas Edwards)

I and my officials have already met both farming unions on several occasions for substantive discussion on the European Community farm price proposals for 1986–87. I have carefully noted their views, and they will be taken into account in the forthcoming negotiations. I have had no separate representations from farmers in the Vale of Glamorgan council area.

Mr. Livsey

Does the Secretary of State agree with his right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food that farmers in Wales should receive less in the current price review than they did last year?

Mr. Edwards

I am sure that price restraint is necessary if we are not to continue to increase the already very large surpluses in the Community. Indeed, that position has been generally accepted by the farmers unions in their discussions with us. I should be interested to hear whether it is the view of the Liberal party that we should seek to boost the wasteful surpluses.

Sir Raymond Gower

Is my right hon. Friend optimistic or otherwise about the outcome of the negotiations?

Mr. Edwards

Clearly there is a difficult period of negotiation ahead. The Community has now enlarged. One of our principal objectives in the negotiations is to see that none of the measures discriminates against British farmers, but that British farmers are fairly treated alongside farmers in the other Community countries.

Mr. Harvey

In view of the sharp fall in farm incomes last year, will my right hon. Friend guarantee that, in particular, the sheepmeat regime, which is vital for many hill producers in Wales, is preserved?

Mr. Edwards

I share my hon. Friend's view about the importance of the sheepmeat regime. Indeed, it is because of the success of that regime and the fact that we are not so dependent on cereals in Wales that the fall in farm incomes in Wales was so much less than in the rest of the United Kingdom. The Commission's proposals envisage the continuation of the sheepmeat regime in substantially its present form.

Mr. John

As reform of the common agricultural policy is intertwined with this year's price proposals, does the Secretary of State accept that the Commission's proposals on both beef and sheepmeat discriminate against the present United Kingdom farm structure and must be changed?

Mr. Edwards

I agree that there are discriminatory proposals before us. When I started answering this question, I said that one of the Government's principal objectives was to resist the Commission's discriminatory proposals, which apply in the cereal sector as well in the two sectors mentioned by the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. McQuarrie

Does my right hon. Friend accept that hill and upland farmers in Wales suffer the same problems as those in Scotland? Will he ensure that in any negotiations within the Community the beef premium is maintained, because it is essential for those rural areas?

Mr. Edwards

I assure my hon. Friend that we attach the same importance to the beef premium scheme in Wales as he does to the scheme in Scotland. As he knows, there are proposals for reforming the beef regime generally. There may be a need for general reform, but we attach great importance to the beef premium scheme. However, it will be a difficult negotiation, because our views on the scheme are not shared by most other members of the Community.

Mr. D. E. Thomas

Does the Secretary of State, who is responsible for agriculture in Wales, intend to take part in the negotiations?

Mr. Edwards

I do not intend to go to Brussels because I do not believe that that would strengthen our negotiating position. The proper way to protect the interests of different parts of the United Kingdom is to see that we meet the farmers unions, discuss the proposals in detail and then present a single negotiating position within the Community. It is already difficult enough to present sensible negotiations in a Community of Twelve. I do not believe that we strengthen the Welsh case by trying to isolate ourselves. Anyone who thinks that simply does not understand either the nature of the Community or what is really important for Welsh farmers.

Dr. Roger Thomas

the Secretary of State is prepared to travel abroad on behalf of Wales and to listen to the Farmers Union of Wales, why does he not do a proper job and visit Brussels on behalf of the farmers of west Wales? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that 10 per cent. of farmers in west Wales are in dire financial straits and that they would be glad to see him go to Brussels and do a proper job for Wales?

Mr. Edwards

I am flabbergasted by the hon. Gentleman's remarks. If there is one thing that the farmers of west Wales understand, which the hon. Gentleman does not, it is that they benefit from being part of the general arrangements for the purchasing of milk and for the support of agriculture. They know that they gain enormously from being part of the England and Wales arrangements and that it would be a total catastrophe for them if they were isolated or separated from arrangements which are of such benefit to them.