HC Deb 13 December 2001 vol 376 cc993-6
8. Mr. Derek Wyatt (Sittingbourne and Sheppey)

What assessment she has made of how the mid-term review of the CAP will be affected by the enlargement of the EU; and if she will make a statement. [20561]

The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Margaret Beckett)

We expect the European Commission to initiate the mid-term review in 2002. Agreement on the agricultural elements of the enlargement negotiations has yet to be secured, so it is not yet possible to assess precisely how the enlargement and CAP reform dynamics will impact on each other.

The environmental damage and budgetary costs of extending the CAP to new member states both add weight to the UK Government's position that the CAP must be reformed sooner rather than later.

Mr. Wyatt

I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply. I realise that it is a complex issue. Farmers in my constituency keep cattle and sheep and others produce apples, pears, cherries, raspberries and strawberries. Our worry is that Tesco and Walmart—and not the consumer and the farmer—will be enabled. Can she be persuaded to ask the regional development agencies to hold a series of one-day conferences so that we can discuss with fanners the type of economic reform that is needed and the help that we can give?

Margaret Beckett

I appreciate my hon. Friend's interest in the subject, and he made a very interesting suggestion. I undertake to consider whether that or other means will enable us to do more to draw in input from exactly the stakeholders to whom he referred.

Sir Robert Smith (West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine)

In the right hon. Lady's plans to take forward negotiations on CAP reform, what will she do to deal with the problem of the high value of the pound and its fluctuation against the euro, especially now that the agrimonetary compensation schemes are to come to an end? Is she working to find replacement schemes?

Margaret Beckett

We recognise that agriculture is one of those sectors in the United Kingdom that has suffered an impact as a result of the level of the currency. The hon. Gentleman will know that Governments who have tried to meddle with the level of the currency have rarely been successful. However, I think that it is true to say that rarely have any British Government been worried by the level of the pound being too high, except for when Lord Lawson tried to keep it high deliberately.

Our goals for CAP reform are to provide greater room for manoeuvre and flexibility and to try to steer resources away from what is known as the first pillar and into the second pillar of rural support—agri-environment schemes and so on. Indeed, if we can, we hope to break the link between support for market-distorting subsidies and direct support for production. The hon. Gentleman's ideas about the issues that we should pursue in CAP reform are, I am afraid, not at the top of our agenda.

Mr. Bill Tynan (Hamilton, South)

Does my right hon. Friend agree that reform of the common agricultural policy has long been an ambition of all of us in this country? Does she accept that enlargement gives us an opportunity to examine the relevance of the CAP and to ensure that any change is beneficial to the enlarged Community in Europe?

Margaret Beckett

My hon. Friend is right that enlargement is a key issue. It concentrates people's minds on the need for CAP reform, which has long been recognised in this country. There is also the additional pressure of the timetable negotiated by my right hon. Friends and others in Doha, under which the European Union has to get together a negotiating package of proposals, probably by spring 2003. All those things, along with the mid-term review that was already scheduled, bring greater pressure to bear than ever before in respect the need, and drivers, for CAP reform.

Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (Cotswold)

Before I go any further and get into trouble, the House should be aware of my farming interests.

Does the Secretary of State agree that to enlarge the EU, the CAP will have to be reformed? If so, does she also agree that every member, both new applicant countries and existing countries, should move towards a deregulated agricultural market, not a protected one?

Margaret Beckett

I certainly agree that those are parallel processes. It is common ground in most quarters of the House that CAP reform should be pursued. Enlargement gives further impetus to the need for reform and provides a useful driver. I share the hon. Gentleman's view, if I understand him correctly, that we should aim for a thriving and successful agriculture industry that thrives and succeeds without needing all the direct support from the Government.

Joyce Quin (Gateshead, East and Washington, West)

In addition to the pressures for reform to which my right hon. Friend referred, does she agree that it is also important to treat developing countries more fairly in the world trading and agricultural systems? What work is she doing to build up a coalition for reform within the EU, in particular with key allies such as Germany, Sweden and Denmark, to ensure that all opportunities for reform are taken as firmly and robustly as possible?

Margaret Beckett

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for raising that. I agree that it is important to give developing countries proper access to our markets in this and other sectors. On alliances, we are building on the solid foundations that were securely laid when my right hon. Friend was a Minister in the Department. We continue to work in particular with the countries that she named. The intention was to have a further discussion, which would have been held fairly recently, but the Danish Government decided to have a general election instead. We anticipate reinstating that engagement soon.

Hugh Robertson (Faversham and Mid-Kent)

As part of the Secretary of State's review of CAP reform, will she undertake to ensure that the needs of the horticulture industry are considered and, as more countries join the EU, that proposals for fair and transparent labelling are introduced?

Margaret Beckett

The whole issue of labelling is frequently discussed in a variety of ways in the CAP as it stands, never mind how it might be reformed. I take the hon. Gentleman's point. He will know that horticulture does not feature large on the list of top priorities for consideration in the mid-term review, but I can assure him that we will try to ensure that no opportunity for beneficial reform is overlooked.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

It is intriguing to hear the clamour from the Tories and the Liberals on the need for CAP reform. May I make a simple forecast? If my right hon. Friend or any other Labour Minister reforms the CAP, the farmers in all the Tory and Liberal constituencies will squeal like busted pigs and the Tories and the Liberals will vote against it.

Margaret Beckett

My hon. Friend has often shown remarkable prescience. For everybody's sake, I hope that we and our allies in the European Union will be successful in substantially reforming the CAP, because that is highly desirable, but I accept that, whatever success the Government achieve, it will not be recognised by Opposition Members.

Bob Spink (Castle Point)

May I tempt the right hon. Lady to go a step further and talk not about reforming but entirely dismantling the CAP, which has proved to be entirely incompatible with enlargement? It is expensive and futile, and it is perceived as such. Should not the Government lead the way in Europe towards dismantling it?

Margaret Beckett

It is arguable that the Government have been leading the way in negotiations in Berlin and elsewhere, although it is important that there is a core group of nations that are of one mind in seeking reform. I share the hon. Gentleman's view on the CAP, that there is very little to praise and much to blame.

Forward to