HC Deb 29 November 1990 vol 181 cc999-1000
1. Mr. Thurnham

To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what representations he has received about cuts in farm subsidies; and if he will make a statement.

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

I have received a large number of representations. Negotiations on GATT are due to be brought to a conclusion at a meeting in Brussels next week; my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry and I will attend.

Mr. Thurnham

Should not we be moving away from the kind of protectionism that the Opposition want, so that Europe's farmers become less dependent on the taxpayer and more sensitive to the needs of consumers, in the widest possible sense?

Mr. Gummer

The Community has already made a considerable offer to the GATT round, which will mean—over a period—a reduction of 30 per cent. in the support that we give. That, however, will have to be done at a pace that the farming industry can accommodate.

Mr. Campbell-Savours

Is not it true that the figure is not 30 per cent., but a net 15 per cent. from now, and that that in no way meets the demands of the Americans taking part in the GATT negotiations, who want 70 per cent? How does the right hon. Gentleman intend to ensure that a trade war does not break out after the conference that is due next week?

Mr. Gummer

I am not in the House of Commons to meet the demands of the Americans; I am here to defend the interests of Britain, and the European Community of which we are part. If the hon. Gentleman wants to carry out GATT talks on the basis that we give in to mid-western American farmers instead of defending our own interests, it is a good job that it is not his party that is responsible for standing up for Britain, because it would not do so.

Sir Hector Monro

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the increase in the suckler cow subsidy, the advance payment on the sheep premium and the drop in interest rates have been a great help to livestock farmers? Nevertheless, we must accept that prices have been substantially down this autumn and that we have a long way to go to increase profitability.

Mr. Gummer

My hon. Friend is entirely right. In relation to the less-favoured areas, I have done all that I can within the rules of the Community; but world price levels have none the less fallen, which means that our livestock farmers are having a very difficult time. We shall have to continue to look for ways in which we can help.

Dr. David Clark

Is the Minister not aware that it simply does not make sense to throw good money after bad to subsidise farmers? Will not he go to Europe and press for a fundamental reform of the common agricultural policy, using agri-environmental payments as the core of the policy, as advocated by the Labour party and all reputable conservation and farming lobbies?

Mr. Gummer

If the Labour party began by accepting that we do not "go to Europe", because we are already in Europe, its members might get the geography right before proceeding any further. It is that attitude to the rest of Europe which will make it impossible for us to obtain a reasonable arrangement on agriculture.

The hon. Gentleman knows very well that the present Government have obtained a better deal in Europe than any that Labour could possibly hope to obtain. Until he advances propositions that show some understanding of the common agricultural policy, he will continue to be listened to by no one, either in this country or in the rest of Europe.

Rev. Ian Paisley

Has the right hon. Gentleman seen the answer given to me last Thursday on this issue by his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland? Will he assure the farmers of Northern Ireland that their special interests will be kept in mind?

Mr. Gummer

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will agree that I have taken a particular interest in the needs of the farmers of Northern Ireland. I have met the Ulster Farmers Union and other farming interests and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland keeps me very fully informed. I shall ensure that in the negotiations we do not forget the particular problems of Ulster.

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