HC Deb 09 May 1991 vol 190 cc816-7
8. Mr. Andrew Welsh

To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what recent discussions he has had with his European counterparts on the reform of the common agricultural policy.

Mr. Gummer

The reform of the common agricultural policy was considered at the meeting of the Agriculture Council on 22 and 23 April, where discussions concentrated on the Commission's 1991 agricultural price proposals.

Mr. Welsh

This is beginning to get close to "The Muppet Show".

When the Minister meets his European counterparts, will they do something about the plight of the soft fruit industry, especially the Scottish raspberry industry, which is under threat from a flood of cheap eastern European imports? Is he aware of the importance of raspberries, not only in terms of direct employment but for the transportation industries? Will he obtain an extension of the minimum import price system until the end of this year and, in the long term, seek to maintain a stable market through quantitive controls?

Mr. Gummer

The hon. Gentleman will know that my hon. Friend the Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker) has kept that matter very much in my mind. Therefore, on every occasion when it has been possible I have raised the matter in the European Community. I have obtained a further extension of four months, but that is not enough. However, more important than the extension is ensuring that it is monitored. The hon. Gentleman will know that I have strong objections to the way in which the Commission has so far failed to monitor properly the arrangements which it put in place at our insistence. I am perfectly well aware of the importance of the Scottish raspberry industry and the soft fruit industry to the United Kingdom. We need to provide a market for eastern European products and to insist that that market is at a price similar to that which we get at home. Otherwise the benefit goes to the processor, not to the eastern European country. The disbenefit is to the British farmer. I am determined that, as far as it is possible to find new ways to press the European Commumnity, we shall do so. I believe that the Commission has let us down on this issue.

Mr. Hunter

In the light of continuing arguments in some circles that nitrogen quotas should form part of a reformed CAP, may I ask my right hon. Friend to take this opportunity to explain his continued opposition to that argument?

Mr. Gummer

I could give my hon. Friend a large number of reasons. First, it could not be policed; secondly, what does one do about natural nitrogen that comes from farmyard manure; thirdly, how do we make sure that others keep the rules, even if Britain were able to police such a system; fourthly, how could one ensure that it was a fair system; fifthly, how would rationing be done in countries where the authorities have no idea what people used in the previous year, anyway; and, sixthly—well I could give a number of other reasons which would all go to show that the system would be unworkable.

Dr. David Clark

Does the Minister realise that while Opposition Members support the Government in resisting the details of the MacSharry proposals for the reform of the CAP, we still believe that there must be a fundamental reform if we are to get a fair deal for the British consumer and farmer? The Minister should take the high ground. Will he take the offensive and table his proposals for reform of the CAP so that we can start arguing on our terms rather than on MacSharry's terms?

Mr. Gummer

I hope that the public recognise that the hon. Gentleman's willingness to advise others stops short of his willingness to learn that proposals cannot be tabled at the EC in that way. Proposals are tabled only by the Commission. I am determined to see that the Commission's new proposals contain our suggestions. I have put those proposals forward absolutely clearly.

Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will answer a question that is now being widely asked. In the event of there being a future Labour Government who would cut spending on the national health services, as the right hon. Member for Islwyn (Mr. Kinnock) said yesterday, how much would the hon. Gentleman cut from the support given to farmers?