HC Deb 24 January 1991 vol 184 cc447-8
9. Mr. Allen

To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what was the remit given to European Community negotiators on agricultural subsidies at the December GATT talks; and what changes have been agreed to their remit for the resumed GATT talks.

Mr. Gummer

The Commission negotiated at the December meeting in close consultation with member states on the basis of the offer that the Council of Ministers had approved in November.

Mr. Allen

Will the Secretary of State take this opportunity to tell the House the Government's position in the resumed GATT negotiations? Does he agree with the Financial Times yesterday that the situation of industry and manufactured and agricultural products could be as serious for the world as the Gulf situation is? Will he use the GATT negotiations as a lever to secure a more sensible CAP, which I am sure hon. Members on both sides of the House would like to see?

Mr. Gummer

The Government's position on reform of the CAP has been and is clear. On the GATT round, it was Britain which managed to get the Community to put forward its offer, it is we who have sought to increase the elbow room in negotiations by the Commission and it is we who supported the Commission and pressed it to negotiate effectively. However, there must be a two-way negotiation and we hope that when negotiations are properly resumed the United States will begin to negotiate round the table and stay there until a solution has been found, rather than addressing the rest of the world as though everyone else had to change their system to fit in with the needs of American farmers.

Mr. Ralph Howell

Has my right hon. Friend read the excellent letter from Sir Simon Gourlay in The Times today and, if so, does he agree with its principal point that the MacSharry proposals would be devastating for British agriculture? May we have an assurance that he will reject those proposals outright?

Mr. Gummer

Sir Simon Gourlay's letter in The Times today was extremely effective and pointed out clearly that it is not a sensible policy for European agriculture to make it impossible for efficient farms to compete and to prop up farms that have no chance of competing anywhere. It would not be good for Europe to go back to the canal age in agriculture.

Dr. David Clark

Will the Minister stop running away from the problem? Does he not appreciate that while the GATT talks are perceived in this country as an agricultural problem, they are indeed an industrial problem? Unless we resolve the problem we shall get into a world trade war. As the key is in agriculture, will the Minister put forward, for the House to debate, a set of proposals for the reform of the CAP so that farmers and consumers may get a fairer deal and we as taxpayers will pay less towards it?

Mr. Gummer

The hon. Gentleman seems not to realise that this country is a member of the European Community. He should come to terms with the fact that negotiations about GATT are done by the Community and that the common agricultural policy is a Community policy and not something that comes out of the back pockets of Labour Front-Bench spokesmen. It has to be negotiated in the Community if it is to succeed. My job is to do the negotiation. So far, we have got the Community to move sharply towards us in the negotiations on GATT and at long last we have convinced the Community that a radical reform of the CAP is necessary. We have now got to get a sensible reform which does not prejudice the United Kingdom. That is my battle and that battle is in the Community, rather than merely trying to make a few cheap points on the Floor of the House.

Mrs. Ann Winterton

Does my right hon. Friend accept that Cheshire dairy farmers wish to see the GATT round brought to a successful conclusion in the best interests of world trade, but that they reject totally the MacSharry proposals, in their present form, to cut milk quotas? That. would result in this country having to cut back dairy and milk production by four times more than Germany and would have an adverse effect upon the competitiveness on our processing sector.

Mr. Gummer

My hon. Friend might put it even more clearly. It would mean that there would hardly be a dairy farmer in Cheshire who would not have his quota cut by 10 per cent. and that there would hardly be a dairy farmer in Ireland who would not keep exactly the quota which he has now.