HC Deb 19 November 1986 vol 105 cc252-4W
Mr. Maclennan

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will make a statement on the outcome of the meeting of the Council of Agriculture Ministers on 17 and 18 November.

Mr. Gummer

I refer the hon. Member to the reply that I gave today to my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, North-West (Mr. Bellingham).

Mr. Bellingham

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what was the outcome of the Council of Agriculture Ministers' meeting held in Brussels on 17 to 18 November; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Gummer

I represented the United Kingdom at this meeting, which was chaired by my right hon. Friend the Minister.

The main items before the Council were the Commission's proposals for major changes in the support arrangements for milk and beef, intended to address the serious surplus situation in these sectors.

So far as milk is concerned, the Commission had in September proposed various measures, mainly to reduce the support provided through the intervention system, which they intended should be immediately applicable. They have recently added proposals for additional cuts in production quotas, over and above the cuts agreed in the 1986 price-fixing negotiations, to apply from 1 April 1987 and 1 April 1988; and also certain proposals to make the quotas apply more strictly. For beef, the proposals were those made by the Commission in the context of the last price negotiations, together with certain recent amendments to them.

I strongly supported the need for urgent action in both sectors. However, after lengthy and detailed negotiations, there remained considerable differences of view between the member States, on both the nature and degree of the action that needed to be taken. My right hon. Friend was reluctantly obliged to conclude that there was no basis for reaching immediate agreement. He underlined the serious situation confronting the Community in both sectors and strongly urged the Council to be ready to take final decisions at its next meeting in December.

After I had again raised the question of a devaluation of the green pound, the Commission came forward with a proposal during the meeting to devalue both the green pound and the green franc for beef and sheepmeat. For the green pound the proposal was for a reduction in the monetary gap of six points for beef and two points for sheepmeat. I noted that this met our request in these two sectors. The Council was not disposed to approve the proposal immediately, and it has been remitted for technical examination.

The French Minister again drew attention to the situation in the sheepmeat market in France. He considered that this was due to increased exports from the United Kingdom to France, as a result of the fall in the value of the pound, and he wanted the immediate introduction of some form of monetary corrective on trade in sheepmeat which would increase the charge already levied on our exports.

I successfully resisted any such charge and drew attention to the unacceptable interferance in our trade by lawless acts in France. The Commission indicated that they would make a proposal to enable the payment of annual ewe premium to producers to be varied seasonally and that they would under their own powers make provision for the advance payment of 75 per cent. of the annual premium to producers in less-favoured areas. Though requested by France, this provision will be of general application throughout the Community. The Commission also recalled that they intend to report on the agrimonetary system as a whole by the end of the year.

The Council resumed negotiations on the proposals for changes in the structural policy. I argued strongly that these needed to be examined to ensure that they would not run counter to the policies for tackling surpluses. In particular, I welcomed the proposal on environmentally sensitive areas. The Council will return to this in December.

Among several measures adopted by the Council at this session were two regulations concerning the protection of forests from fire and from atmospheric pollution. These regulations are intended to establish a degree of Community-wide co-operation in this sector.