HC Deb 21 March 1991 vol 188 cc391-2
8. Mr. Jacques Arnold

To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will make a statement on the reform of the common agricultural policy.

9. Mr. Butler

To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what progress he has to report on reform of the common agricultural policy.

Mr. Gummer

The Government continue to press for reforms of the common agricultural policy that will make European Community agriculture more market oriented, reduce budget costs, lead to closer integration between agricultural and environmental policies and apply fairly throughout the Community.

Mr. Arnold

My right hon. Friend is to be congratulated on the considerable efforts that he is putting into securing reform of the CAP. Will he make every effort to ensure, in any reforms that are achieved, that the British farmer will not be disadvantaged in relation to farmers on the continent?

Mr. Gummer

As British farmers have already gone through an agricultural revolution since the war, my hon. Friend would expect me to insist that it would be wrong for them to be penalised a second time while other farmers failed to go through such a revolution. That is why we so utterly oppose the proposals that Mr. MacSharry has put before the Council.

Mr. Butler

Whatever reforms are adopted, will my right hon. Friend ensure that British farmers are not the only ones who have to stick by the rules and that farming practices throughout the Community are monitored properly?

Mr. Gummer

The most important thing is to get people to accept the tough side of a world, in which surplus production bears so heavily on farmers' incomes—that everybody must obey the same rules. We are considering carefully whether there are better ways in which to monitor observance of the rules throughout the Community and, indeed, in Britain, so that farmers can feel that there is a level playing field and a fair deal for all.

Mr. John D. Taylor

Does the Minister agree that some sectors of agriculture require reform more urgently than others? Does he accept that the growth in lamb production has reached the stage at which some constraints are urgently needed and is he sympathetic to the idea of quotas in the sheep sector?

Mr. Gummer

I do not think that quotas would be a good thing in general or in the United Kingdom in particular. In the past two or three years there has been an advance beyond sense in the number of lambs produced in some countries, but what is needed is a fair deal in the European Community to ensure that parts of the Community that produce excellent lambs should be able to continue to do so. As British lamb is, without doubt, the best in the world, we want it to continue to be produced and sold and we will not have those activities stopped by those who do not like the competition.

Dr. David Clark

May I associate the Opposition with the objectives outlined by the Minister in his initial answer to the question about reform of the CAP? Will he publish the Government's proposals for the CAP so that we can at least have the debate on our terms, not on the European Commissioners' terms?

Mr. Gummer

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his support for our policy, but the most important thing is that we should have a debate in the Council and on the Council's terms rather than having debates outside the Council to pat ourselves on the back.

My job is to get the Community to agree to a reform package. I do not think that the best way to do that is to suggest to the Community that it must accept some prepackaged presentation from this country. My job is to get people on our side. The opportunity for the hon. Gentleman and me to argue with each other here is not as important as the opportunity for both of us to achieve our joint desires in the Council. In those circumstances, the hon. Gentleman must accept that it is better to act through the Council which, in this area, has the authority.