HC Deb 22 November 1989 vol 162 cc8-10W
Mr. Gill

To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what was the outcome of the Brussels Agriculture Council held on 20 and 21 November.

Mr. Gummer

I represented the United Kingdom at this meeting together with my hon. Friend, the Member for Skipton and Rippon (Mr. Curry), the Parliamentary Secretary in my Department.

The Council had before it important proposals for reforming the Community's regime for agricultural structures. Good progress was made and a number of substantial improvements were made to the text. One component of the Commission's proposal was that in future normal Community reimbursement of member states' payments of hill livestock compensatory allowances should be limited to 45 livestock units per farm with half the normal reimbursement rate between 45 and 90 livestock units. (One livestock unit is defined as 1 cow or 63 ewes). Although the extent of Community reimbursement has no necessary direct effect on the levels of payments to producers, the proposal was unsatisfactory in that it would discriminate against United Kingdom farms in the less favoured areas most of which are necessarily extensive and limited to the raising of livestock.

As a result of our representations the figures quoted were effectively more than doubled and implementation was delayed for a year until 1 January 1991. However, I was unable to accept the limitations even at this higher level and accordingly I voted against the package which was, however, agreed by a qualified majority.

The Council agreed two measures on the additional cereals co-responsibility levy which forms a part of the stabiliser for that sector. First, it agreed in principle to set the levy at zero for 1989–90 under a new de minimis provision which was, however, altered in negotiation so that it applies to the current marketing year only. Arrangements have already been made to cease collecting levy when the relevant legal text is adopted and to repay levy already collected. Second, the Community agreed in principle to new and better arrangements for determining the level of the additional co-responsibility levy from 1990–91, which should avoid any possibility of repaying levy in future years. This latter decision will ensure that levy is paid at the full rate implied by the size of the Community harvest, will save administrative costs for Government and the industry and will, I am sure, therefore be welcomed by farmers and the cereals trade.

The Council agreed to the issue of 1 per cent. extra milk quota from 1989–90 to all member states and the cancellation of 1 per cent. of existing quota currently suspended. To offset the costs involved reductions will be made in the intervention price of butter by 21/2 per cent. and skimmed milk powder by 3/4 a per cent. from 1 March 1990, and an increase of 15 per cent. made in the supplementary levy from 1 April 1990. In a full year this package could be expected to he neutral in budgetary terms. The outcome is much more satisfactory in this respect than the original Commission proposal. However, because the cost in 1989–90 will not be fully offset by savings I abstained in the vote. Agriculture Ministers will announce details of how the extra quota will be allocated in the United Kingdom as soon as possible.

The Council considered again a proposal concerning veterinary checks in intra-Community trade of meat and meat products. I emphasised the vital need to ensure that the arrangements for the single European market do not prejudice the favourable animal health status of countries like the United Kingdom. Agreement was reached on a useful regulation on mutual assistance in the veterinary area between member states and the Commission.