HC Deb 23 January 1991 vol 184 cc247-8W
Mr. Tredinnick

To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what was the outcome of the Agriculture Council held in Brussels on 21 and 22 January.

Mr. Gummer

I represented the United Kingdom at this meeting, together with my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary.

The Council heard an oral presentation from Commissioner MacSharry on his personal ideas for possible changes to the common agricultural policy. His approach was based on the desirability of retaining the largest number of farmers as possible in the Community irrespective of the viability of their farms. He envisaged significant cuts in prices and quotas, the introduction of some new direct payments to producers, an expansion of the Community's agro-environmental policies and that a revised policy should be deliberately slanted so as to favour smaller producers. He did not quote figures, but it appeared that changes on the lines suggested would result in a significant increase in budgetary costs.

It was my intention to welcome the Commission's willingness to contemplate radical reform and certain strands of Mr. MacSharry's thinking, but to insist that changes should involve a reduction in costs, to advocate a closer integration of agricultural and environmental policies, and to reject the proposed discrimination against larger farmers on the grounds that this would prevent the emergence of a genuinely competitive European agriculture and would also involve unacceptable distortions between member states. However, only the Irish Minister was able to comment before the Commissioner was suddenly called away by a family bereavement. Discussions will resume at the next meeting of the Council of 4 February. It is not clear if the Commission will have adopted a definite position on CAP reform by them. The Council agreed to extend the Community's sugar regime for two years from 1 July 1991 on the current basis except for a small reduction in the permissible maxima for national aids, including that for cane sugar refining.

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