HC Deb 18 July 1984 vol 64 cc265-6W
Mr. Howard

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will make a statement on the outcome of the Council of Agriculture Ministers' meeting on 16 and 17 July.

Mr. Jopling

Together with my hon. Friend the Minister of State I represented the United Kingdom at the meeting of the Council of Agriculture Ministers on 16–17 July.

The Council reached agreement on the establishment of financial control agencies to monitor olive oil subsidy payments and also approved a regulation specifying more clearly the rights and obligations of olive oil producers groups which handle aids for olive oil producers. These regulations should greatly strengthen financial control in the olive oil sector.

A regulation was adopted establishing a new aid for the disposal of partially skimmed milk powder for calf feed to operate until the end of the 1985–86 milk marketing year. I pointed out that while the proposal could be of benefit in the longer run I could not support it since it would lead to increased expenditure in 1984.

In a general discussion on the new structures proposals, I stressed that the Community needed to give proper weight to conservation and should examine in greater depth whether the proposed regulation represented an appropriate balance between the interests of conservation and agricultural production. There was a discussion on Community proposals for increased protection against forest fires and acid rain. I indicated our concern on these matters but pointed out that the complex question of the threat to forests posed by atmospheric pollution was one for which Environment Ministers had the major responsibility. It was likely to lead to confusion for the Agriculture Council to take over the dossier. The presidency undertook to consider how best matters could be carried forward.

In the discussion on the import regime for currants, sultanas and raisins I stressed that the United Kingdom was the largest consumer of these products within the Community and that the needs of our trade must he taken into account in the arrangements proposed. In particular, I urged the need for sensible arrangements on prefixation and the avoidance of disproportionate penalties for minor breaches of the minimum import price. No decisions were taken at this meeting.

In a discussion of the problems of the wine sector I pressed the Commission to come forward as quickly as possible with proposals for a reform. It was agreed that work should continue urgently on identifying problems and that the Commission would come forward with proposals in September.

At my insistence the Commission undertook to make a comprehensive report on the implementation of the milk supplementary levy in the member states at the next (September) meeting of the Council which will take place before any levy is chargeable. In the margins of the meeting I reminded the Commissioner of the need to find ways of introducing greater flexibility between the direct sales and wholesale quotas for milk. He has agreed to study the problem further and I shall be continuing to press for a solution to be found urgently.

With the German Minister I pressed for action to control the export of French alcohol given the evidence that it is being exported below the price on the French domestic market. I also stressed the need for action to avoid state trading countries exporting soft fruit at prices below their cost of production.

Considerable concern was expressed about the beef market. The Commission said that it was urgently studying the situation and I would expect it to come forward with proposals shortly.

I raised with the Commission the problems caused by the operation of the new seasonal scale for sheepmeat. The Commission accepted that technical experts should examine the position soon.