HL Deb 25 July 1994 vol 557 cc60-2WA
Lord Brougham

and Vaux asked Her Majesty's Government:

What was the outcome of the Agricultural Council held in Brussels on 18 and 19 July 1994.

The Parliamentary Secretary, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Earl Howe)

My right honourable friend (Mrs. Shepherd) represented the United Kingdom at this Council, whose principal outcome was agreement on the agricultural prices for 1994–95 and the associated proposals on milk quota.

The package of measures agreed met all the United Kingdom's main objectives, including significantly reining back agricultural expenditure in 1995. Among our specific objectives which were met were: the rejection of the Commission's proposal to reduce milk quotas by 1 per cent. in 1994–95 and confirmation there would be no quota cut in 1995–96; a reduction in butter prices for 1994–95 of 3 per cent.; provision to allow the United Kingdom to allocate, across the board, the 70,000 tonnes of milk quota remaining from last year's 0.6 per cent. increase; confirmation that export refunds on whisky, to offset the higher price of Community grain, will continue, worth about £20 million p.a. to the United Kingdom industry; rejection of the proposed cut in linseed aid which would have diverted producers into alternative crops such as rapeseed and flax, with potentially increased budgetary costs—in the event, the Council increased this aid from 85 to 87 ecu/tonne on beef, where the regional ceilings for beef special premium for several member states, though not the United Kingdom, were substantially reduced.

Only when all our concerns on milk had been met was my right honourable friend prepared to accept confirmation of the milk quota increases agreed last year for Italy, Spain and Greece. These will apply for 1994– 95 only, for Italy and Greece, and definitely for Spain.

The Council also agreed, at my right honourable friend's insistence, measures to simplify the sheep annual premium scheme, so as to make it easier for members of producer groups to claim premium. This is an important deregulatory measure. It is also agreed to put in place a short term apple orchard grubbing scheme.

The overall package will lead to substantial savings for the 1995 EC budget and ensure that the agricultural guideline can be respected. This excludes expenditure in 1995 resulting from the application of the agrimonetary system since September 1992. My right honourable friend made clear that the United Kingdom could not agree to any breach or increase of the guideline and that further proposals for savings would be required if it appeared that total expenditure could not be contained within the guideline.

The main elements of the price proposals were agreed unanimously, although Denmark opposed the beef aspects. The milk quota proposals were agreed by qualified majority, the Benelux countries and Denmark voting against. The United Kingdom supported the whole package, which, overall, represents a very good deal for United Kingdom farmers, taxpayers and consumers.

On BSE the German Minister announced that that country's proposed unilateral measures would not be brought into effect. This followed a number of changes to the rules agreed in the Standing Veterinary Committee, which met simultaneously with the Council. This will remove uncertainty from our beef industry, confirming as it does that all member states now accept that British beef is safe. Their decision wholly vindicates the Government's insistence that our policy on the issue must be based firmly and solely on science.

Finally, the Council agreed to consider ways of simplifying the common agricultural policy in order to reduce the regulation and red tape imposed on fanners. We circulated a paper listing several areas where our farmers have experienced problems. This will be considered alongside suggestions from other member states.