HC Deb 29 February 1996 vol 272 cc981-3
1. Mr. Turner

To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food when he last met the National Farmers Union to discuss the common agricultural policy. [16097]

The Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. Douglas Hogg)

I meet the NFU regularly to discuss all aspects of agricultural policy.

Mr. Turner

Is the Minister aware that Opposition Members agree with the National Farmers Union that the divisions and isolation on Europe in the Conservative party are greatly weakening the Government's negotiating position? What does he think about the statement by the previous NFU president that he intends to vote Labour at the next general election?

Mr. Hogg

If he does, he will be very upset by the consequences, should the hon. Gentleman's party by any evil chance be elected.

Sir Roger Moate

When he next meets members of the NFU, will my right hon. and learned Friend discuss the form of the dairy regime? According to figures from his own Department, a Dutch cow receives about £400 a year in financial support from the Common Market, as does a Danish cow. This country receives £80 per cow. Why is the British cow worth so much less than European Community cows? One might ask who is milking whom.

Mr. Hogg

I have always taken the view that the British cow is a splendid cow.

My hon. Friend has made a good point about the need to reform the common agricultural policy. The British Government have been taking the lead in that regard. I am glad to say, however, that there has been a substantial increase in farmers' incomes, which have risen by some 52 per cent. in real terms over four years.

Mr. Anthony Coombs

I welcome the fact that the cost of the CAP has fallen by about 20 per cent. since 1988. Will my right hon. and learned Friend confirm, however, that the CAP costs the average family about £20 a week in additional bills? Is that not a very good reason for reviewing its operation at the intergovernmental conference, particularly given that, with the expansion of Europe, it will become even less sustainable than it is now?


My hon. Friend is right to say that the cost of the CAP is unsustainably high. That is one of the reasons why we want it to be substantially reformed. It is worth pointing out, however, that between 1988 and 1994 there was an annual decrease of some 0.2 per cent. in real terms in the cost of the CAP to the taxpayer. Under the last Labour regime, the cost quadrupled.

Mr. Stevenson

Has the Minister discussed with the NFU the dramatic increase in the CAP budget to which the United Kingdom Government have agreed? Between 1992–93 and the current year, the budget has increased by £4.5 billion—about 30 per cent. How can the Minister justify that, and how can he equate it with the Government's professed intention of reforming the CAP, which, they say, would be good for the taxpayer, the consumer and the farmer?

Mr. Hogg

The hon. Gentleman clearly was not listening to what I said. Between 1974 and 1979, under the Labour Government, expenditure on the CAP quadrupled. That coincided with a period in which food prices rose and farm incomes fell in real terms. Under the Conservative Government, we have got a real grip on the CAP—for example, in the 1992 reforms. As I said a moment ago, between 1988 and 1994 there was an annual decrease, on average, of 0.2 per cent. in expenditure on FEOGA.

Dr. Strang

How can the huge arable and set-aside payments to large farmers be justified? Surely it is indefensible that, last year, 13 cereal growers received individual payments of £500,000 or more from a regime that, this year, will cost more than £1 billion? How does the Minister reconcile that expenditure with his decision to cut European money towards the cost of school milk?

Mr. Hogg

The hon. Gentleman really should not exaggerate the contribution that either he or the Labour party has made to the discussion on agricultural reform. I just happen to have on me every word that appeared in the Labour party manifesto in 1992 on agricultural policy. Those words make up two sentences. They are conveniently pasted on the back of an ordinary bus ticket, the type of bus ticket that a Labour Member used to take on her journey from Peckham to St. Olave's. If you, Madam Speaker, would like me to deposit that artefact in the Library of the House of Commons, I will most certainly do so. It will not take 10 days to read.

Dr. Spink

Having dispatched Labour's policy, does my right hon. and learned Friend agree with the Liberal Democrats' assessment that they are"too pro-European ever to reform the CAP"?

Mr. Hogg

I do indeed agree. I happen to have in my hand a report prepared by a lady called Candida Gould, who is described as a "Political Warfare Officer"—not a job that we would expect to find in a party that criticises other parties for partisan policy making. On behalf of the Liberal Whips office, she said, "The Lib Dems are too"—

Madam Speaker

Order. The Minister is amusing us this afternoon, but it is not the purpose of the House to be amused by a Minister. He is here to answer questions on Government policy and I should like him to be accountable for that policy today.

Mr. Tyler

I hope that the Minister will have some—

Madam Speaker

Order. I have not called the hon. Gentleman's question. Let us have an answer from the Minister that relates to his responsibilities.