HC Deb 30 April 2001 vol 367 cc499-500W
Mr. Hood

To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what the outcome was of the Agriculture Council held in Brussels on 24 to 25 April; what the Government's voting record was at the Council; and if he will make a statement. [159572]

Mr. Nick Brown

I represented the UK at the meeting of EU Agriculture Ministers in Luxembourg on 24 April. The Minister for Rural Development in the Scottish Executive, Ross Finnie, was also present.

As I reported to the House on 26 April, I brought the Agriculture Council up to date on our efforts to combat foot and mouth disease and the fact that our measures are bringing about a decline in the number of new cases. The Council also heard reports on FMD from the Commission and from the Dutch Agriculture Minister, and in response to a UK/Dutch initiative there was collective agreement to hold a conference later in the year to discuss the lessons to be learned from these outbreaks.

The Council also heard a report from the Commission on the results of the EU-wide testing programme for BSE, and in particular agreed conclusions inviting the Standing Veterinary Committee to extend the temporary ban on meat and bone meal beyond the end of June. With the support of several other member states, I secured agreement from the Commission that they would re-examine the use of fishmeal in ruminant feed in the light of their current evaluation of cross—contamination risks.

Turning to market-related measures, the Council considered a compromise text from the Presidency and Commission on reform of the EU sugar regime, extending the duration of the quota system for a further four years but with a review before end-2002. Germany, Sweden, the Netherlands, Denmark and the UK were able to support this compromise, but others were strongly opposed. The issue will be re-examined in May.

The Council reached unanimous agreement on measures to reform the cotton regime, within strict budgetary limits. The Council also adopted by qualified majority a proposal to permit organic producers to grow fodder legumes on set aside land; only France abstained in the vote on this small but worthwhile measure.

The Council agreed conclusions on the integration of environmental concerns into the common agricultural policy; these will form part of a report on environmental sustainability going to EU Heads of Government in June. The Commission also reported to the Council progress with the setting up of the proposed European Food Authority.