HC Deb 05 March 1992 vol 205 cc428-30
4. Mr. John Evans

To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food when he next expects to meet his European agricultural colleagues to discuss reforming the common agricultural policy.

Mr. Gummer

At the next Agriculture Council on 30 and 31 March.

Mr. Evans

Does the Minister agree that reform of the common agricultural policy—which costs £25 billion a year, consumes 65 per cent. of the Community budget and costs the average British family £17 per week—would be assisted by the introduction of an organic farming policy? Does he recall that more than two years ago he announced that an organic scheme would be introduced in a matter of months? What on earth has happened to that scheme?

Mr. Gummer

As I have said, the European Community has failed to produce the legislation under which we could do that. I have made it clear that the reform must include legislation enabling us to do that. We have led the way in organic farming, both by the introduction of the United Kingdom register of organic food standards and by ensuring that European standards follow British standards. The hon. Gentleman's figures on the payment per family are not correct. One issue that is particularly damaging is the decision by the Labour party that if it were in power it would tax British farmers and give the money to the farmers of Spain, Portugal and Greece.

Mr. Marland

It is good to give credit where credit is due. Is my hon. Friend aware that he has earned the widespread respect of British farmers by standing up for their interests? Furthermore they know that they can trust him because he will not filch money from the common agricultural policy, as Labour would do, to use it for other purposes. Will he confirm that he does not stand alone in the European Community but that other countries support his firm stand?

Mr. Gummer

I am pleased to say that more and more European Community countries are coming to the views that we have pioneered on reform. I am sorry that the Leader of the Opposition has announced that he would take money from British farmers and contribute it to those in southern Europe. That is the wrong way to use common agricultural policy reforms.

Dr. David Clark

After all these years in office, does not the Minister yet understand that the British consumer simply cannot afford the exorbitant cost of the CAP, which does not exactly help the British farmer either? Has not he realised that the CAP is the only agricultural support system under which consumers pay a subsidy to farmers and end up paying more for their food than if they had not paid the subsidy in the first place? Will the right hon. Gentleman, in his swan song at the Dispatch Box, admit that not only has he been the most expensive Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, supporting an increase in CAP spending of 55 per cent., but that, by his failure to get meaningful reform of the CAP, he has been the most unsuccessful one, as well?

Mr. Gummer

The hon. Gentleman is in no position to make any of those comments. His party has now signed up to Mr. MacSharry and his basic philosophy. The Leader of the Opposition has said in the House that CAP reform would mean that he would take money from British farmers and spend it on farmers in southern countries. That has been contradicted by the Labour spokesman on Treasury matters, who has said that his party would take money from British farmers and divert it to regional policy. That has been contradicted by the hon. Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark), who has said that he would take money from British farmers with one hand and give part of it back to them with the other. It is the usual example of the Labour party spending money that it does not have and will not get. It proposes to do so three times, and those from whom the money would come would not get any benefit.

Mr. Hume

Is the Minister aware that the Commissioner for Agriculture is now the Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development? A major part of the reform of the CAP is focused on rural development, and that is important for less-favoured areas where there are smaller farms. What steps has the Ministry taken to encourage farmers in those areas to consider alternative land use and to recognise that agriculture policy is no longer about prices only but embraces rural development, rural housing and rural agriculture that is based on their products? Is there a planned approach by the Government to make maximum use of such a policy to develop employment in the poorer rural areas?

Mr. Gummer

Yes, certainly. We oppose Mr. MacSharry's proposals because hardly any farmers will be able to gain by his support for rural development. To Mr. MacSharry, rural development means no help for the farmers of Wales and more help for the farmers of southern Ireland. It means no help for the farmers of Scotland and more help for the farmers of Portugal and Bavaria. That is a divisive policy, not a rural development policy, which would affect countries and areas of the European Community. That is why we oppose it.

Mr. Cash

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the British farmer is the most efficient farmer in Europe? Does he agree also that the MacSharry proposals will have an extremely damaging effect on the British farmer? Will he do everything to ensure that the recent announcement by the European Community, which reflects the attitude of the French and those who agree with them in respect of the general agreement on tariffs and trade proposals, will not be immensely damaging to British farming and world trade as a whole? Will my right hon. Friend do something about that?

Mr. Gummer

It is most important that we have a GATT solution. Britain, together with most of our partners, made sure that the next step towards that was taken on Monday. The French and one or two other countries were outvoted on that issue.

It is clear that, increasingly, other countries in the Community are supporting our view on CAP reform. That is why they refuse to accept the Commission type of document that was presented on Monday and Tuesday and have demanded that we look back once again at the fundamental and basic principle. The principles that we want are no discrimination, a closer approach to the market, consideration of more environmental matters at the centre of the European Community and a sensible CAP that is designed to support efficient farmers and the proper backing of the rural economy.

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