HC Deb 04 June 1992 vol 208 cc936-7
8. Mr. David Nicholson

To ask the Minister of Agriculture. Fisheries and Food what are his objectives during his presidency of the Council of Agriculture Ministers.

Mr. Gummer

I shall seek to carry forward the process of common agricultural policy reform, complete the single market, improve animal welfare and make environmental considerations much more central to the CAP.

Mr. Nicholson

May I, too, congratulate my right hon. Friend on his success in the recent negotiations? It represents one of the more hopeful precursors of the United Kingdom presidency. During that presidency, will he give great emphasis to achieving higher standards where appropriate, effective enforcement and, above all, a level playing field on such matters as national subsidies for environmental purposes, food hygiene and that most important area to which he referred—animal welfare?

Mr. Gummer

I thank my hon. Friend for his kind words. It is clearly important that controls over the cruel production of veal and pigs should be extended to the whole of the Community. We should not take a nationalistic view of animal welfare: it should apply throughout the EC, as our membership of the Community demands.

Mr. Tyler

Is the Minister satisfied that the proposals for the reform of the CAP will reduce the major, and in some sectors increasing, discrepancy between farm and retail prices? Is he further satisfied that there will be opportunities for producers in all sectors to benefit from the proposals without the risk of increased prices to the consumer?

Mr. Gummer

I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his appointment on this occasion, his first appearance in his new role. We have to face the fact that under present policies, which I understand the hon. Gentleman's party supports, prices paid by consumers are higher than they would otherwise be. CAP reform has led to a reduction in consumer support and an increase in taxpayer support. At the same time, the farmer is being asked to take a price which is much closer to the market value. In those circumstances, we have the fairest situation between farmers and countries.

Mr. Ralph Howell

I add my congratulations to my hon. Friend on the success of the recent price round. Will he assure us that the cereal market will continue to be supported by intervention and that the prices will apply to feed-quality cereals?

Mr. Gummer

I can assure my hon. Friend that we shall continue to support the cereal producer, not simply by intervention, which will he properly diminished, but by compulsory set-aside, compensation and area payments. That is what the United Kingdom has demanded arid that is another example of the way in which the EC has increasingly taken on Britain's views.

Dr. David Clark

The House will be disappointed that the Minister has not decided to highlight food hygiene as one of the key issues of his presidency. Does not he understand that the majority of British people want high-quality food? Has not he seen the recent study of the trading standards officers in Birmingham which shows that 90 per cent. of eggs sampled were substandard and that most of those were imported? When will he stand up and speak for the British consumer?

Mr. Gummer

I do not need to stand up and speak for the British consumer. I have put through the House the most extensive food safety legislation of any country. The hon. Gentleman is constantly selling short British food. He is the man who told us not to eat British sausages or British apples. The hon. Gentleman has no right to speak for British food producers and the electorate told him that in no uncertain terms.

Mr. Lord

My right hon. Friend is a very fair man. During his presidency of the Council, will he make his main aim the fairest possible application of rules and regulations governing agriculture throughout the EC, which is a matter of great concern to us all? In particular, I draw my right hon. Friend's attention to the devastating effect that the unfair application of rules and regulations is having on the poultry-processing industry in my constituency in Suffolk where veterinary inspection charges are crippling, putting the industry at a severe disadvantage compared with its competitors in Europe.

Mr. Gummer

I will and I am.