HC Deb 05 March 1992 vol 205 cc432-3
6. Mr. Rathbone

To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food when next he expects to have talks with other European Ministers about GATT.

Mr. Gummer

I refer my hon. Friend to the answer that I gave a few moments ago.

Mr. Rathbone

In anticipation of the meeting of the Agriculture Council, will my right hon. Friend re-commit the Government to the search for an equitable basis on which to reduce farm prices within the European Community and worldwide and to reduce trade barriers as well?

Mr. Gummer

I am wholly concerned to fight for the achievement of an equitable GATT solution as rapidly as possible. It must be a solution that reduces prices across the board, not only equitably throughout Europe but in the United States. This is a proper negotiation, in which both sides will have to give ground if we are to achieve a solution. I look to the current discussions, and also to the United States, to give the ground that is needed.

Mr. Edwards

What reassurance can the Minister give the dairy farmers of Monmouthshire that during his discussions on GATT their interests will be protected? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that those farmers have seen a decline in their incomes and an increase in their costs, and are worried about their capacity to invest in the future? What reassurance can he give them that they will be able to invest in dairy production in Monmouthshire?

Mr. Gummer

The reassurance is that there will be a Conservative Government to fight for them, and that after the next election they will be represented by a Conservative Member for Monmouth.

Mr. John D. Taylor

Pursuant to the reply that the Minister gave earlier to the hon. Member for Ross, Cromarty and Skye (Mr. Kennedy), and as there has been much speculation that there will be no GATT settlement at all this year, will the Minister confirm that, should there be no GATT settlement, he will oppose the MacSharry proposals for the rest of this year?

Mr. Gummer

If there is no GATT settlement, during our presidency we shall seek to achieve the necessary reform of the common agricultural policy. That reform will be based not on the discriminatory attitudes of Mr. MacSharry but on a sensible policy of supporting agriculture fairly throughout the Community, bringing agriculture closer to the market and ensuring that the environment is a central concern of the CAP. It will also ensure that economic farmers are enabled to compete throughout the world. There will have to be specific help for those in the least favoured areas, and particular help for restructuring in the southern countries of Europe.

Mr. Favell

It is reported on the front page of The Times today that the common agricultural policy—that squalid policy which is costing British families an average of £18.50 a week each—will destroy the world free trade talks, which have been going on for four or five years, and involve just about every country in the world. Is it not clear, in retrospect, that our right hon. Friend the Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher) was absolutely right when she went to Rome in October 1990 and warned our partners that the talks should be about world free trade, and not about cloud cuckoo land—that is, political and economic union, which was doomed to failure in any event?

Mr. Gummer

The fact is that The Times report is not correct. The second fact is that there has been a great deal of obfuscation and obstruction from the United States in the negotiations. It is wholly wrong to suggest that it is the European Community alone which has difficulties with the agriculture dossier. We must both find a way through this, and I demand that we in this country support the Commission in its negotiations, demanding that the United States come further towards us, so that together we can find a solution for the whole world, instead of throwing batons at each other across the Atlantic.