HC Deb 20 January 2004 vol 416 cc1183-4W
Mr. Connarty

To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what the outcome was of the Agriculture and Fisheries Council on 17 to 18 December; what the Government's stance was on the issues discussed, including its voting record; and if she will make a statement. [145518]

Margaret Beckett

My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary and I represented the United Kingdom at a meeting of the Agriculture and Fisheries Council in Brussels on 17 December. The Scottish and Northern Irish Ministers responsible for Agriculture and Fisheries were also present.

The Council agreed by qualified majority a Regulation providing for the total allowable catches for fish stocks for 2004. Important increases in quota for haddock and nephrops were agreed subject to special licensing and control conditions (those for nephrops to be developed by the end of next February). Annex V of the Regulation provides for limits on fishing time in 2004 for vessels which can catch cod, which operate in the North Sea and west of Scotland waters (as for 2003) and for the first time for vessels in the Irish Sea and the eastern English Channel. Annex VI introduces an effort management scheme for the North Sea sandeel fishery, for which the Regulation also sets significantly reduced quotas.

The Council also agreed by qualified majority a long term recovery plan for cod stocks, setting a mechanism for deciding on multiannual catch limits, and providing for annual limits on fishing effort as in Annex V to the TAG Regulation. It explicitly enables the Council to adjust the mechanism for fishing effort during 2004 should it so wish. Finally the Council agreed the guide prices for fish species for 2004.

The Council adopted by qualified majority the Presidency's compromise text for a regulation reinforcing the current requirements regarding identification of sheep and goats. I welcomed this proposal which met the main concerns we had registered during negotiation. The arrangements take account of the unique structure of our sheep sector; and, subject to approval by the Commission, our current national sheep and goat identification system of movement tags, backed up by the animal movement licensing system, will remain until 2008; followed thereafter by the introduction of electronic ID, which we support.

The Council noted progress made in discussion of the proposal to update rules governing the welfare of animals during transport. The proposal was remitted for further official discussion, in particular as regards the establishment of maximum journey times.

The Council took note without discussion of progress on a draft regulation harmonising official controls on food and feed. A number of issues, notably the scope of regulation and the charges to be made in connection with its enforcement, remain to be settled.

The Council also took note of progress in discussion of a draft regulation setting maximum residue levels for pesticides.

There was no discussion. The Council discussed the package of proposals to reform the CAP regimes for tobacco, olive oil, cotton and hops. We reiterated our support for the Commission in extending the principles of CAP reform to these sectors but argued for greater decoupling of subsidies to the olive oil and—particularly—cotton sectors. We expressed support for full decoupling in the tobacco sector, as the Commission has proposed, and called for the shortest possible transition period. Detailed negotiation of these proposals will resume under the Irish presidency.

Under Other Business, the Italian Presidency tabled a written report outlining progress on specific hygiene rules in the animal feed sector. The Presidency also reported on progress in negotiation of a veterinary equivalence agreement with Russia. Austria pressed for early action to deal with low prices in the pigmeat sector; we and several other Member States cautioned against reliance on export refunds in this sector. We raised the problems caused for Pakistan by recent changes in the concessionary import terms applicable to Basmati rice. The Commission took note and reported that it was consulting with Pakistan and India over the latest information available on prices and varieties.

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