HC Deb 06 April 1978 vol 947 cc181-2W
Mr. Edge

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what was the outcome of the Council of Ministers (Agriculture) meeting in Luxembourg on 4th and 5th April.

Mr. John Silkin

I represented the United Kingdom at this meeting accompanied by my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary and the Under-Secretaries of State to the Scottish Office and Department of Prices and Consumer Protection.

This Council was mainly devoted to a detailed examination of the Commission's proposals for 1978–79 farm prices and related measures. I argued against any price increases for products in structural surplus and I supported the concept of more flexible intervention arrangements for beef and skimmed milk powder. No decisions were taken. Many Ministers expressed serious concern about the effects on farm incomes in their countries if the Commision's restrictive price policy was endorsed. The Commission said that proposals to revise the calculation of monetary compensatory amounts on a number of products, including pigmeat products, would come forward in time for them to form part of the price package.

There was a further discussion of the Commission's proposals for safeguarding the essential functions of the milk marketing boards. Some delegations expressed the fear that the boards could distort competition by using returns from liquid milk to subsidise the production of milk products. But no arguments were advanced against the principle that provision should be made for the continuation of the boards. The Council will be returning to this subject at its next meeting.

The Council continued its discussion of a package of measures proposed by the Commission to deal with the problems of agriculture in the Mediterranean region. I welcomed the general emphasis on correcting underlying structural deficiencies rather than applying more rigid import controls or internal support measures, and I emphasised in particular the importance of the measures concerned being cost-effective.

The Commission announced its proposals for a common regime for sheepmeat, including a variable import charge, which would never exceed the current 20 per cent. tariff, and provisions for aid for private storage to deal with short term production fluctuations. The proposals will need technical examination before decisions can be taken by the Council, but my initial view is that they provide a useful basis for negotiation.

The Council agreed on aids to hop producers on the 1977 crop, subject to the opinions of the European Assembly, but at rates slightly above those proposed by the Commission. The arrangements include the payment of aid on second year hops which will be of substantial benefit to producers in the United Kingdom.