HC Deb 20 June 1991 vol 193 cc446-7
2. Mr. Irvine

To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will make a statement on the report on agriculture recently issued by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.

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

The report estimates that support for agriculture in OECD countries increased between 1989 and 1990. Although producer prices fell, world prices also fell and the net effect was an increase in support measured in this way.

Mr. Irvine

My right hon. Friend will have noticed that the OECD report concludes that unless the principal trading nations take speedy and effective action to reform their agricultural support policies, there will be severe economic consequences, in particular, the escalation of trade tensions, price inflation and the holding back of economic growth. Does my right hon. Friend agree with that conclusion?

Mr. Gummer

I am sure that that is a serious danger. That is why we are prosecuting the general agreement on tariffs and trade round so strongly. I know that the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development made it clear that changes will have to take place involving all the participants, and that the support for agriculture that we found in the United States has similar effects to that which we find in the European Community. The idea that only the European Community must change is wholly without foundation.

Dr. David Clark

Will the Minister confirm that since he became Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, spending on the common agricultural policy has increased by no less that 55 per cent?

Mr. Gummer

The hon. Gentleman is keen on insisting that spending on the CAP has increased. If only the moneys getting to farmers had increased by 55 per cent., I should be much happier. We are waiting for the hon. Gentleman to tell us how much his policy would increase the spending of any future Labour Government. We have been unable to cost his policy so far because he has not given us the figures. I challenge him to tell us by how much he would increase the taxpayers' bill to pay for his green premium.

Mr. Hind

Will my right hon. Friend take up with the OECD the problem that the CAP creates in preventing farmers from expanding production in areas in which Britain is not self-sufficient and in which we could increase our market levels? I am thinking especially of increasing our milk production so that we could more effectively compete in the richer market for dairy products. If we increased our export sales, that would help our balance of payments.

Mr. Gummer

Even though we are only 88 per cent. self-sufficient in butter fat, my hon. Friend must accept that we are producing butter and placing it in intervention. We must use the milk that we have to produce high-value products. That is why the milk marketing board is seeking new and better ways of marketing milk to that end. The idea of national self-sufficiency does not have the validity that my hon. Friend suggests within the European Community. We need to compete more effectively with over colleagues in the Community and ensure that we produce high-value products.