HL Deb 14 December 1993 vol 550 cc1261-3

Lord Stanley of Alderley asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they are satisfied that member states operate the rules of the common agricultural policy in such a way as to ensure a "level playing field", and what steps they have taken and will take to ensure that the Commission enforces such rules.

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

My Lords, the Government are satisfied that, in general, member states implement and enforce their EC obligations properly. In those cases where other member states do not play by the rules, the Government are always ready to take up the matter with the Commission, which is responsible for ensuring that Community rules are observed, and with the member states concerned.

Lord Stanley of Alderley

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that Answer. However, how does the first part of that Answer square with the fact that 10 years after the introduction of milk quotas Italy still has not put them into force? It is now blackmailing the Community saying that it will put them into operation only if it receives further quota. Can the Government take any future steps to make sure that Commission rulings are obeyed quickly?

Earl Howe

My Lords, Italy and Spain have been provisionally allocated additional quota provided that the quota system is implemented properly and that production is reduced. The additional quota will be confirmed for the 1994–95 quota year and beyond only if the Council of Ministers is satisfied that the obligation to reduce production and implement the system has been met. The reduction in production in Italy and Spain was a major factor in the decision not to implement a 1 per cent. across-the-board quota cut at this year's price fixing. I stress that, in return for the extra quota, Italy must reduce its milk production by 14 per cent. of its total.

With regard to the second part of my noble friend's question, the UK is committed to the proper and rigorous implementation of Community law. We lose no opportunity, when well substantiated allegations arise, to make the facts known to the Commission.

Lord Bruce of Donington

My Lords, the noble Earl said that the Government are always ready to take action when alleged infringements come to their attention. Can he give me the date of the last intervention by the Government on such a matter? Can he indicate what the intervention was for and whether the Government ever intend to raise the question of the outrageous tobacco payments made out of the European budget, many of which are fraudulently misapplied?

Earl Howe

My Lords, it is difficult to know where to begin to answer the noble Lord. I cannot give him the last instance where we did so, although there have been a number of instances this year where we referred well substantiated allegations to the Commission and to the member states concerned. The noble Lord will recall an example that we debated the other day; that is, the standards in Spanish slaughterhouses. With regard to the tobacco regime, the noble Lord will be aware that tobacco is high on the UK's list of priorities when ensuring that the measures which were recently agreed are implemented and therefore that the cost is contained.

Lord Middleton

My Lords, can the Minister say whether the concessions reported to have been made to French farmers in the current GATT negotiations are to be at the expense of the other member states and their farmers?

Earl Howe

My Lords, the Government agree with the Commission's assessment that CAP reform is compatible with the obligations on agriculture which a GATT agreement is likely to contain. We therefore see no need for special measures to compensate EC farmers for the effect of that agreement. Even if they were to become necessary, the cost would have to be within the agriculture expenditure guideline agreed at the Edinburgh European Council. The Brussels European Council meeting on 10th and 11th December issued a declaration making it clear that the financial decisions of Edinburgh must be respected.

Lord Mackie of Benshie

My Lords, is the noble Earl aware of the situation in Scotland where this year the arable farmers are facing a 5.4 per cent. reduction in their compensatory arable payments? Even worse, next year they face a 5.4 per cent. increase in the land they set aside, making 20 per cent., and that is enough to break. an arable farmer's heart. Furthermore, the 5 per cent. will not be paid for at any time. The German Government faced the same result in part of Germany. They negotiated with the Commission, used their influence and reduced the penalty to 10 per cent. of what it should be on paper. The Government believe in a level playing field. Can the noble Earl say what representations they are making to the Commission or to the Council to correct that heavy burden?

Earl Howe

My Lords, I think that we must all sympathise with those farmers in Scotland who find themselves in a position of incurring penalties as a result of the overshoot mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Mackie. However, it has to be said that the Scottish overshoot of 5.4 per cent. was not the result of any exceptional event, as was certainly the case in Germany, but of a simple increase in the area of cereals sown. So it is difficult to see what grounds we have for seeking an exemption from penalties whose very existence arises directly from the policy, to which I believe your Lordships all subscribe, of keeping the CAP cost to a minimum and ensuring a level playing field among the member states.

Lord Mackie of Benshie

My Lords, on my second question—

The Lord Privy Seal (Lord Wakeham)

My Lords, I think it is the turn of my noble friend Lord Harmar-Nicholls.

Lord Harmar-Nicholls

My Lords, is not this talk of a level playing field nonsense? It is quite clear that there are no recognisable sanctions which can be applied against anyone who is in breach of any of the agreements. Does that not mean that all this talk about being a one-unit Europe is based upon a fraud? Should we not all proceed on the basis that it is up to every nation to see that its own concerns are properly applied and accepted?

Earl Howe

My Lords, I would remind my noble friend that the Maastricht Treaty on European Union includes, at our instigation, a provision to impose financial sanctions on member states which persistently fail to meet their Community obligations. The European Court of Justice has also stressed that member states should regard adherence to Community law with the same seriousness as adherence to national law.

Lord Carter

My Lords, how can there possibly be equity in cereal production, for example, when nearly all the reduction in the 1993 cereal harvest resulting from set-aside has come from one member state—the United Kingdom?

Earl Howe

My Lords, the area of land set aside in each member state will vary depending on the total arable area and the number of growers claiming payments under the arable area payments scheme. Firm figures for 1992–93 are not yet available for other member states. However, as the noble Lord will realise, the percentage of land set aside in the United Kingdom and in France is not all that dissimilar. Area payments are tied to average historic production levels and the effect of that is that other member states will not be able to increase their production at the UK's expense.

Lord Carter

My Lords, can the Minister confirm that our cereal production is down by 11 per cent. while the average in the Community is 1 per cent.?

Earl Howe

My Lords, as I said, we do not yet have the final figures. It would not be surprising if there were a disparity. I cannot confirm the figures that the noble Lord has mentioned because, as he knows very well, the number of larger farms in the United Kingdom greatly exceeds on average the number in other member states.

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