HL Deb 24 June 1992 vol 538 cc437-40

2.45 p.m.

Lord Forester asked Her Majesty's Government:

What steps they are taking to ensure that United Kingdom farmers are fully informed of the details and implications of the CAP reform settlement to enable them to plan their businesses for the coming year.

The Parliamentary Secretary, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Earl Howe)

My Lords, the Government appreciate that arable farmers, in particular, need to take decisions in the very near future, and some guidance has already been given. Details of the CAP reform agreement are, however, still being finalised. The Government will provide full information to farmers as soon as it becomes available.

Lord Forester

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that reply. I understand that the details that we require are only going to be debated on 30th June—let alone agreed—and that they come into force on 1st July. Is my noble friend aware that, although the European Parliament can stop the clock whenever it so wishes, British farmers cannot? The seasons roll on and nothing will stop them. In particular, will my noble friend ensure that British feed wheat is acceptable for intervention, because that is vital if we are not to have really unfair discrimination?

Earl Howe

My Lords, my noble friend has highlighted a very important issue. It is now for the Commission to bring forward proposals setting quality standards for cereals under the new system. We have urged the Commission to produce this as soon as possible. We recognise that producers and traders need to know what quality of grain the prices will apply to and what quality of grain will be eligible for intervention before sowing begins in the autumn. We have made it very clear that feed wheat must continue to be eligible for intervention.

Lord Bruce of Donington

My Lords, while making quite sure that the agricultural community knows the details of the new scheme, will the Minister give the House an undertaking that the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food himself is aware and that the Directorate-General VI of the Commission is aware of the opinion of the Court of Auditors on 15th May last, which also sets out the possibilities and the probabilities of massive fraud when the new schemes come into operation?

Earl Howe

My Lords. I cannot speak for my right honourable friend as to whether or not he is aware of that, but I am sure that he is. We shall have an opportunity to debate the question of fraud in a few days' time.

Lord Stanley of Alderley

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that, unless an immediate announcement is made to tell farmers what areas the regions will cover and to alter the stabiliser arrangements for cereals, more cereals will be grown next year than this year?

Earl Howe

My Lords, we shall determine the regions once the implementing regulations for set-aside have been adopted. I think that I understand the point that my noble friend is making. In terms of the rules for set-aside, penalty set-aside and reductions in area payments will be triggered if the claims for area payments cover a larger acreage than the regional base area, whatever that is deemed to be. It is open to farmers to move out of oilseeds and protein crops and into continuous wheats, but I doubt whether that will recommend itself to many farmers, especially as cereal prices will decline.

The Countess of Mar

My Lords, is the Minister aware that it is not only arable farmers who need to know, but also stock farmers? They are having great problems in knowing how many beef stock and how many sheep to carry because the base date from which the subsidies will be paid is not yet known.

Earl Howe

My Lords, at present the intention is to write to farming organisations giving details of the revised schemes for the beef regime. Quota allocations under the suckler cow premium scheme will be sent to individual producers. I am afraid that the timing on that is not yet certain. On sheep, detailed rules on quota allocations are still to be agreed in Brussels. However, we would hope to be in a position to advise producers of their provisional quota allocations, on the basis of their eligible ewe numbers in 1991, if possible by the autumn.

Lord Grimond

My Lords, can the Minister tell us how the principle of "subsidiarisation", if that is the right word, applies to agriculture? Are we to be allowed to make our own regulations? Is he aware that I am informed that farm cheese made in Orkney cannot now be kept on wooden shelves? Shelves must be made of stainless steel. This, apparently, is a direction from Brussels. Surely this is the kind of matter which could be dealt with further down the democratic line, if it needs to be dealt with at all, rather than in Brussels.

Earl Howe

My Lords, in general, as I am sure the noble Lord knows, agreement has to be reached between member states and the rules implemented accordingly. There is some latitude in various areas. I am thinking particularly of the environmental provisions under set-aside where the rules will have to be tailored to meet each member state's particular circumstances.

Lord Gallacher

My Lords, what proposals do the Government have for supervising the new regimes for cereals and the transferability of livestock quotas when the new regimes are in place for these commodities? Is it envisaged that the Home Grown Cereals Authority and the Meat and Livestock Commission will be used as supervisors?

Earl Howe

My Lords, I do not think that we have reached a conclusion on that. If I can, I shall write to the noble Lord with an answer.

Lord Marlesford

My Lords, may I press my noble friend to reply to a very important point of principle which was raised in the original Question? Is it not wholly unsatisfactory that the Council of Ministers, at the behest of the Commission, should approve important changes to any regime, whether it applies to agriculture or anything else, on the day before it comes into force? Is that not totally unreasonable for those who have to abide by it? Might not Her Majesty's Government use the period of the United Kingdom presidency to introduce a rule that at least two or four weeks should elapse between the agreement of any new proposals and their coming into force?

Earl Howe

My Lords, I can assure my noble friend that we lose no opportunity to tell the Commission of our most urgent concerns. We fully recognise that farmers need to be able to plan ahead and we have been making available as much information as possible on the basis of our latest understanding. But in many respects we have to go at the pace the Commission dictates.

Noble Lords


Lord Mackie of Benshie

My Lords, one of the points of principle that farmers require to know is whether the Government are convinced that this will be a permanent system. In other words, will a deficiency payment making prices up to the level of this year continue forever?

Earl Howe

My Lords, I cannot speak about for ever. What we are talking about is a regime that should last for a number of years.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon

My Lords, would the noble Earl like to reconsider his use of the word "dictates"?

Earl Howe

Perhaps, my Lords.

Earl Peel

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that reform of the CAP will be influenced by the outcome of the GATT talks, which have yet to be concluded?

Earl Howe

My Lords, the discussions on the reform of the CAP will have a bearing on the negotiations in the GATT. Only a part of what we are currently discussing relates to the GATT as a whole. Added impetus will be lent to the GATT negotiations as a result of the agreement we reached.