HC Deb 19 December 1991 vol 201 cc439-41
6. Mr. Moss:

To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what estimate has been made of the effect on the EC budget of implementation of the MacSharry proposals.

Mr. Gummer

The Commission admits that its proposals would increase the cost of the common agricultural policy to the Community budget.

Mr. Moss

Will my right hon. Friend clarify a puzzle which arose during yesterday's European Community debate? On two separate occasions, when questioned about the cost of implementing some proposals under the Maastricht treaty, the Leader of the Opposition said that the money could be found from the reform of the common agricultural policy. [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker

Order. The question must relate to Government policy. The hon. Gentleman knows the rules.

Mr. Moss

If the money can be saved from the reform of the common agricultural policy, would not that mean a reduction in income for farmers in my constituency, unemployment and a reduction in the rural economy?

Mr. Gummer

There is no doubt that reform of the common agricultural policy must be carried out in a way which ensures that there is no discrimination against farmers in the United Kingdom. The proposal of the Leader of the Opposition to spend the money that is now spent on British farmers on farmers in southern Europe is something about which every farmer should know—unless the Opposition spokesman will advise him differently and tell the House when he has so advised him.

Mr. Hume

Does the Minister agree that those mainly affected by the MacSharry proposals are the 3 per cent. of farmers across Europe who are large farmers and that small farmers—those with less than 125 acres of cereals, fewer than 90 beef cows or fewer than 40 milk cows—are not affected? When that is added to the fact that rural development is now a major part of the Maastricht treaty and of the MacSharry proposals, is not that a very good thing for rural society?

Mr. Gummer

The hon. Gentleman is entirely wrong and his views are opposed by the farmers unions of every part of the United Kingdom, including such "big" farmers as the crofters in Scotland. All of them say that the MacSharry plans would be devastating for farmers in every part of the United Kingdom. The hon. Gentleman's views can give comfort only to the farmers outside the United Kingdom on whom the Leader of the Opposition wishes to spend our money.

Mr. Marlow

Would not my right hon. Friend be insulting British farmers if he were to suggest that he should decimate the financial support available to them so that it could be given to M. Delors for use as a slush fund for so-called cohesion—a bribe to the countries of southern Europe? Will my right hon. Friend ensure that if anyone does make such a daft suggestion, that person's name is put loudly and clearly in front of the British farming community?

Mr. Gummer

So far, the only person who has made that suggestion is the Leader of the Opposition. Therefore, I am quite happy to put his name—at least in this context—in front of the general public. The proposals suggested yesterday by the Leader of the Opposition were clearly to ensure that British farmers reduced their already low incomes and that the money be used for development—rural and urban—in the southern parts of the European Community.

Dr. David Clark

Will the Minister explain to the hon. Member for Cambridgeshire, North-East (Mr. Moss) that the common agricultural policy which he seeks to defend is a grossly inefficient system? As my right hon. Friend pointed out from the Dispatch Box yesterday, only £1 in £3 of agricultural support goes to farmers, which we do not think makes much sense. As the Minister and I agree that the fatal weakness of the MacSharry proposals is that they will increase the cost of the common agricultural policy, thus breaching the budgetary limit, will the Minister give the House a guarantee today that the Government will use their right of veto on any proposals to breach the budgetary limit? He has those powers; will he use them?

Mr. Gummer

The hon. Gentleman quoted his right hon. Friend, but he should examine the words again. The right hon. Gentleman said yesterday that it must be the major source of the re-orientated finance for the development of cohesion in the Community."—[Official Report, 18 December 1991; Vol. 201, c. 290.] That can mean only that the common agricultural policy is to be reformed in such a way as to take money from the United Kingdom and give it for cohesion to countries outside. The Leader of the Opposition would have signed the treaty without the debate at Maastricht—he would have accepted anything that M. Delors put in front of him. He would have lain down and been rolled over and that is why he must never be Prime Minister.

Mr. Marland

Far from taking money away from British farmers, will my right hon. Friend bear it in mind during his negotiations with Mr. MacSharry the inequity in national aids? Food from Britain has only six representatives trying to sell British food in Spain, whereas Food from France—its French equivalent—has 60 representatives trying to sell French food in Spain. Will my right hon. Friend find out what can be done to even up the balance? Far from reducing the amount of money available for selling British produce, will he try to increase it?

Mr. Gummer

My hon. Friend has highlighted the fundamental difference. The Government are determined to get rid of arrangements that differentiate against the United Kingdom, whereas the Labour party wishes to increase such differentiation and to pay farmers and others in the southern European states money that will come from the very low incomes of British farmers. That is the difference—the Conservatives support this country.

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