HC Deb 02 March 2004 vol 418 cc779-80W
Mr. Hood

To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what the outcome was of the Agriculture and Fisheries Council on 24 February; what the Government's stance was on the issues discussed, including its voting record; and if she will make a statement. [157673]

Margaret Beckett

I represented the United Kingdom at a meeting of the Agriculture and Fisheries Council in Brussels on 24 February.

The Irish Presidency briefly presented its work programme for the first half of the year. Their general priorities were enlargement, simplification and enhancement of food safety.

The Council agreed by a qualified majority a regulation providing for tariff quotas for the importation of certain fishery products. Italy voted against because of its view that the quota for tuna loin imports was insufficient and Spain abstained because it felt that the quotas in general were too large. I supported the proposal.

The Council noted progress on technical level discussions preparatory to political discussion at the April Council on the proposals for a regulation on the protection of animals during transport. There was a discussion, and I supported the need for an early agreement and for a longer-term objective of moving trade in live animals for slaughter to a meat basis.

The Council noted a presentation from the Commission on its proposals for the financial perspective.

The Council noted a report from the Greek Minister about severe weather conditions in Greece affecting agriculture and the sympathetic: response from the Commission. Greece and the Commission would pursue the assessment of this situation bilaterally.

The Council took note of a report from the Commission on its public hearing on 22 January on organic food and farming. This is preparatory to the tabling of an action plan by the Commission to the Council later in the Irish Presidency.

Under any other business, the Council noted a written report on BSE and reports from Commissioner Byrne on the current situation in regard to Avian Influenza in Asia and a recent outbreak in the US. Commissioner Byrne notified the Council that acting under comitology procedures the Commission was to introduce a ban on the importation of live poultry and certain products from the US. The Council also noted a report from Spain and Portugal about the high level of feed grain prices and indications from Finland and Sweden that there remained supplies of oats which could be used.

The Council also noted information from Italy and Portugal with support from other wine producing countries about recent changes which had been made to the use of traditional terms for wine imported from third countries. The Council noted that the Commission had explained that these changes were necessary to take account of recent discussions at WTO level.

The Council noted information from France about the low level of milk prices. A wide range of views were expressed in subsequent discussion. I made the point that this was to be expected as a result of the changes agreed last June which was reflected in the compensation payments to be introduced shortly. The Commission undertook to produce an analysis of the situation with assistance from the member states.

Finally the Commission amplified the terms of a letter which it had recently sent to all member states about the single farm payment to explain that it was simply making the point that member states which chose to operate on regional or hybrid models would need to justify this decision to the Commission as will be clarified in the Commission implementing regulations. This was noted by the Council.