HC Deb 17 December 1998 vol 322 cc1089-90
9. Ms Chris McCafferty (Calder Valley)

If he will make a statement on the time scale for reform of the common agricultural policy. [62993]

The Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. Nick Brown)

On 23 and 24 November, the Agriculture Council issued a report to the Vienna European Council which identified the main outstanding issues of the CAP reform proposals and expressed its determination to reach conclusions on the package as a whole by March 1999.

Ms McCafferty

I am sure that my right hon. Friend agrees that the Agenda 2000 proposals for reform of the CAP will bring economic benefits and will be good news for consumers in the United Kingdom. Would my right hon. Friend care to comment on the overall impact that reform of the CAP will have on UK consumers?

Mr. Brown

There will be substantial benefits for consumers if we are able to achieve even the Commission's package. Further down the line, there are substantial benefits for taxpayers as well. The benefits for consumers will derive from cheaper food and the benefits for the taxpayers will derive from a diminished subsidy regime.

Mr. Michael Jack (Fylde)

One of the changes to the CAP that the Minister may well be considering is new requirements for record keeping and identification of sheep. Is he aware that, in the north-west of England, there is great concern about the speed with which he wishes to embrace the proposals, especially as sheep producers have already agreed to a voluntary arrangement to improve the identification and marking of sheep? Will the Minister consider carefully the representations from the National Farmers Union in the north-west on that matter? What room for manoeuvre is there to make the new requirements compatible with the United Kingdom sheep industry?

Mr. Brown

I always consider representations from the NFU carefully. I am keen to establish a good working relationship with it and others who represent the interests of the farming community, the food industry and the broader interests of rural Britain. It is clear that the right hon. Gentleman is not following the Agenda 2000 discussions quite so closely as I thought that he was, because the sheep regime is outside the scope of the Agenda 2000 proposals.