|Previous Section||Home Page|
Column 964especially the news on the MCAs and the co- responsibility levy? When it comes to the review of quotas and their transfer, will my right hon. Friend carefully consider the difficulties of young farmers and new entrants to the industry?
Mr. MacGregor : I am grateful to my hon. Friend. In his second question he raises one of the major difficulties of any quota system. I have made it clear to our farming industry that, if there is a general consensus about one or two of the possibilities that might help to deal with that--the siphoning of milk quotas is one of the most obvious--I should be happy to consider them. There is no consensus at present, and it is difficult to see a way of helping some of the new entrants into dairy farming. That is, unfortunately, one of the consequences of a quota system.
Mr. Bob Cryer (Bradford, South) : While the Minister says smugly that he gest a fair deal for farmers--although he admits that there will be a price rise for the ordinary consumer--is he doing any work in the Cabinet to try to unfreeze child benefit, which was debated earlier in the week? Many consumers will be aware of the priorities he has exhibited today. Does he accept that more than £1,000 million will be spent on propping up the Common Market this year and next year--and no doubt for many years after?
Can the right hon. Gentleman tell us whether more or less than 70 per cent. of total EC income will go on the CAP, or has he not yet made that calculation? Does he accept that it is lame to come to the House after 10 years of Tory Government and discover that over £6,500 million is being cheated out of CAP funds by fraud? When is he going to do something about it and catch the crooks?
Mr. MacGregor : The hon. Gentleman bandies about figures without knowing what he is talking about. By definition, one cannot know the precise figures on fraud, but I am almost certain that the figures that he has quoted are way, way above what the figures are likely to be. Nevertheless, any loss of taxpayers' money through fraud is highly reprehensible ; that is why I have taken the fraud issue so seriously. I have already made it clear that the effect of the review on consumers is one twentieth of 1 per cent. and it will have a negligible effect on improving the prospects of our farmers. The proportion of Community expenditure which is spent on CAP is less than 70 per cent.
Mr. Robin Maxwell-Hyslop (Tiverton) : Can I thank my right hon. Friend for his vigorous and effective negotiating in the interest of the whole of the United Kingdom, not just one section of it? On specifics, is it not the case that the cost of the reduction in the co-responsibility levy has been met by the reduction in cost of storing surplus butter? In view of the dramatic increase in costs, including interest costs, why is it therefore necessary to reduce by 2 per cent. the support price--the intervention price--for butter?
Mr. MacGregor : I am grateful to my hon. Friend for what he has just said. The reason for the 2 per cent. reduction in the intervention price is that it was important that that decision was budget-neutral, and the reason for that is that, despite all the reforms that we have carried through, the dairy sector is, at the moment, still the most expensive sector in the Community and as it is still expensive, it is necessary to have a eye to costs. Nevertheless, I expect that now that we have reduced the
Column 965butter mountains and the skimmed milk powder mountains, our expenditure on that will work its way through the system and the dairy sector will then become less expensive than it is now.
Mr. Alex Salmond (Banff and Buchan) : The Minister has already said that he expects that negotiations on the sheepmeat regime will be long and difficult, but will he assure the House that he is aware of the importance of the timing of any such changes and of the disruption and the dislocation that could be caused to the marketing year both from the uncertainty about when such changes will be introduced and about what would happen if they were introduced at the wrong time in the marketing year?
Several Hon. Members rose --
Sir Hector Monro (Dumfries) : May I join in the congratulations to my right hon. Friend on his outstanding success over the co-responsibility levy and the green pound? Bearing in mind the uncertainty in the livestock industry, especially in hill areas, will he do everything possible this summer to ensure that an increase in the suckler cow subsidy is as high as possible?
Mr. MacGregor : I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his remarks on the price negotiations. I am aware of the feelings that he and others like him have about the suckler cow premium and I shall certainly make an announcement about that before 15 June, which is the deadline by which that announcement is required.
Mr. Paul Marland (Gloucestershire, West) : This is an excellent package, and I should like to add my congratulations to my right hon. Friend and to reassure his doubters that the money will find its way right through the system, be it to the farm workers or to the bank managers. I welcome my right hon. Friend's remarks about the co-responsibility levy on dairy produce but having negated that, will he turn his attention to the cereals co-responsibility levy which has encouraged cereals farmers to produce more rather than less, and which is the most worthless tax that there has ever been?
Mr. MacGregor : I totally share my hon. Friend's views about the cereals co-responsibility levy. I have been repeating such remarks ad nauseam in the Council since we have had the co-responsibility levy. I did it again this year, and we achieved one improvement, in that the Commission is now committed to looking at the administration of the cereals co- responsibility levy. I assure my hon. Friend that I intend to build on that.
It was clear this year that, for the first time, we were getting growing support for our attacks on the milk co-responsibility levy. It seemed right to build on that and to secure results on that this year, not least because it means that the Council has now committed itself to phasing out one of the co-responsibility levies. The Council has now begun to recognise the principal arguments against the principle of the co-responsibility levy.
Column 966effect this will have on prices for the coming year. Can he give a forecast of what he expects the price increase will be? While I am glad to hear him restating his opposition to the co- responsibility levy, may I ask him to explain how that squares with his support for stabilising penalties?
Mr. MacGregor : My hon. Friend will know that it is not possible at this stage to predict what market prices will be this year because, being market prices, they will depend on a whole range of market factors. But the fact that MCAs now on cereals in this country are minus 2.6 per cent., compared with minus 32 per cent. only two years ago, is a major contribution that this price review has made, in addition to the improvement in crop support prices as a result of the green rate changes.
As for his question about stabilisers, my hon. Friend and I have had battles on that issue in the past. It is essential for the future stability of our cereal farmers that we get on top of the surpluses and ensure that the cereals sector does not absorb ever-rising amounts of taxpayers' expenditure. That is the point of the stabiliser. I believe that the mechanism of the stabiliser on support prices was the right way to tackle it and that it should not have been encumbered by a co-responsibility levy as well. That is why I am endeavouring to get rid of that.
Mr. Jimmy Hood (Clydesdale) rose --
Mr. David Harris (St. Ives) rose --
Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West) rose --
Mr. Harris : Will my right hon. Friend be not deflected from the excellent work that he is now doing by the unholy alliance in this House represented by my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, East (Mr. Taylor) and the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner)? Will he carry on in the reforming way in which he has approached these matters? Will he accept congratulations, given the squeeze on farm incomes, for the extra £155 million that our
Column 967farmers will gain from this settlement, and in particular for the pending abolition of the co-responsibility levy on milk, which will mean a tremendous amount to milk producers in the south- west of England?
Mr. MacGregor : My hon. Friend is right about the important step that has been taken in the Council for many south-west of England dairy farmers. For many of them in the less-favoured areas there will be no co- responsibility levy on milk from now on. That is an important step forward and I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his comments-- [Interruption.] I am sure that the whole of agriculture will have noticed the frivolity with which Opposition Members treat these matters-- [ Hon. Members :-- "No."]--the frivolity on the Opposition Back Benches, compared with the serious approach and questions that have been asked by my hon. Friends.
Mr. Hood : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I seek your protection. Is it right for the Minister, from the Dispatch Box, to accuse me of frivolity when I am only exercising my democratic right to ask him a question?
Mr. Andrew Hunter (Basingstoke) : What is the anticipated impact of green pound devaluation on the competitive basis of United Kingdom producers in relation to EC producers, and why has the marketing year been changed?
Mr. MacGregor : I am glad to say that, as a result of action even earlier than these price negotiations, we managed to secure a nil MCA in the pigmeat sector, so that it is now in a fair and competitive situation. The change in the marketing year is a sensible move designed to bring it into line with the starting date of the marketing year for the cereals sector, given that cereals play a prominent part in the costs of the pigmeat sector in terms of feed costs and so on.
Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman (Lancaster) : Will my right hon. Friend accept the thanks of farmers in my area for his sterling work on the green pound in particular and on the co-responsibility levy? Will he continue to bear in mind the problems of young milk producers such as my constituent, Mr. Derek Lomax?
Mr. MacGregor : I assure my hon. Friend that I recognise the problems and discuss them often with the farming community. There is a general recognition in the farming community of the problem and an acceptance that this is one of the inevitable penalties of a quota system. On the other hand, there are divided views on how it should be tackled. At every meeting that I have been to, when I have tried to see if there was a majority view, it was difficult to find one. Siphoning offers the best prospect but, as my hon. Friend will know, many in the farming community are not in favour of that.
Mr. Christopher Gill (Ludlow) : I too should like to congratulate my right hon. Friend on his considerable achievements in pushing the British argument in Europe. May I now exhort my right hon. Friend to use his considerable powers of persuasion to influence his colleagues in Europe to phase out intervention, which is
Column 968carried on at horrific cost, which is wide open to abuse and which is of doubtful benefit to producers or the customers they serve? Undoubtedly, the money could be used to much better effect if it was channelled more directly to farmers.
Mr. MacGregor : I agree with my hon. Friend that we should try to bring intervention back to its original objective as an ultimate safety net and not as an alternative market outlet. We are making progress, because two modest further steps towards that end were taken this year, in relation to the intervention period and the monthly increments.
Mr. Nicholas Bennett (Pembroke) : My right hon. Friend's achievements will be particularly appreciated by Pembrokeshire beef and dairy farmers, whose income has been depressed in recent years. Will my right hon. Friend do one further thing for them? Will he continue to press for an increase in the 90-steer headage limit, which would be greatly appreciated?
Mr. MacGregor : As my hon. Friend knows, we had a major battle on that last year, culminating in the Agriculture Council in January. I managed to negotiate the steer headage limit up from the original proposal, which was well below the limit of 90 that we eventually achieved. I will obviously come back to the charge on this, but it is one area where I am in a minority, not quite of one but nearly, so it will be a major battle to get any improvement.
Mr. Charles Wardle (Bexhill and Battle) : May I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his tenacity at the negotiating table? When he begins the important review of the milk quota system, will he put the transferability of quotas high on the agenda? Bearing in mind the effects of last year's drought on world prices, has not enough been saved in export subsidies to abolish the irrelevant milk co-responsibility levy altogether in 1991?
Mr. MacGregor : I am working to get the milk co-responsibility levy abolished. Ideally, I should like to see that happen next year ; certainly I hope that we shall make progress on it next year. On transferability, I have been arguing for some time that we need greater flexibility. I can assure my hon. Friend that I have already told the Commission that I hope that it will come forward with proposals on that in the study to which it is now committed. Mr. Tony Banks rose --
Mr. Kenneth Hind (Lancashire, West) rose --
Mr. Hind : I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the package that he has negotiated, which will be welcomed very much by west Lancashire farmers. In the light of the fact that the British farmer will have a greater competitive edge than in the past, will my right hon. Friend be very vigilant in looking for hidden subsidies that are developed by foreign farmers and producers, particularly as we have seen in relation to gas for the Dutch tomato industry? It appears that the Dutch potato processing industry is benefiting in the same way.
Mr. MacGregor : We are always vigilant in pursuing any issues where it looks as though there are unfair state aids. I have to put the emphasis on "unfair" because some aids are permitted within the system and we make use of them ourselves. I can assure my hon. Friend that we are vigilant where there is evidence of unfair aid. We take that up with the Commission because the prime responsibility for dealing with it lies with the Commission.
Mr. Richard Holt (Langbaurgh) : I offer my congratulations and those of dairy farmers in my constituency to my right hon. Friend. In sorting out the insecurity of the future, will my right hon. Friend's Department hurry up in making a decision about green-top milk? Many of the dairy farmers in my constituency who are involved in this area--who wonder why people are allowed to buy cigarettes and possibly catch cancer--will have nothing to do in future if green-top milk is not available.
Mr. MacGregor : Without going into the issues today, I can tell my hon. Friend that we have been receiving responses to our consultation document. We shall be assessing those responses carefully and in due course we shall make a statement about our position.
Several Hon. Members rose --
I say to the Secretary of State that what the farmers of Newham want to know is, how many of his right hon. and hon. Friends sitting behind him have personally benefited from what he has been able to negotiate? Does he not think that in future it would be far better if Conservative Members declared an interest before they asked a question?
I am certain that the farmers of Newham would applaud the fact that we have done a greal deal this year to put the United Kingdom farmer on a completely competitive basis. I should have thought that the whole House and the whole country would welcome that.
Points of Order
Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow) : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. May I raise a point of Table Office practice rather than "Erskine May"? A malicious habit has grown up among Ministers--one in particular--of claiming that she or he has answered questions when, in fact, no answer has been given. Yesterday, I had oral Question 92, which, alas, was not reached. It asked the Prime Minister whether Sir Leon Brittan cleared with No. 10 Downing street--
Mr. Dalyell : The point of order concerns a matter of Table Office practice and why the Table Office refuses questions that ask Ministers for specific references as to where they have answered questions that they claim to have answered. It is a matter for the Table Office. I know that you, Mr. Speaker, cannot make decisions now, but would you reflect on the matter for 24 hours and ask the Table Office and colleagues what should be done about references which have been properly asked for by parliamentary Questions?
Mr. Nicholas Bennett (Pembroke) : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Before I give my point of order, may I thank you for calling me a second time on the statement? Obviously, my first question was not very memorable.
Could you confirm that hon. Members who wish to ask questions about statements, such as the hon. Member for Clydesdale (Mr. Hood), should be present to hear the statement?
Mr. Bob Cryer (Bradford, South) : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Will you ensure that the record of Hansard shows that the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food referred to Opposition Back-Bench questions as frivolous? As one of them was a question from me about the serious fraud and cheating that is going on in the CAP, it is important that people outside should know that the Minister does not take a serious attitude towards that important subject.
Mr. Merlyn Rees (Morley and Leeds, South) : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. You probably know that, over a period, a group of us on the Opposition Back Benches have complained in the proper quarter about the fact that we cannot hear properly because the acoustics of the chamber is not good. Very understandably, it was put to us that little could be done about it. However, the whole thing is made worse when Ministers, especially junior Ministers, pirouette--they talk not to the House, but turn round. Today was a prize example. It is foolish of them to behave in that way. Can we get an instruction to Ministers, especially junior Ministers, not to pretend that they are playing, for example, David Lloyd George?
Mr. Speaker : I am well aware of the problem with the acoustics. The right hon. Gentleman has drawn my attention to something which I already know about. The microphones have recently been replaced. Ministers should speak into them, and the whole House would then hear.
Column 971Pembroke (Mr. Bennett). My hon. Friend the Member for Clydesdale (Mr. Hood) represents a distinguished agricultural constituency and has had a horse named after him, unlike Conservative Members. He was present during the statement made by the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. Even if my hon. Friend did not rise to speak, the hon. Member for Pembroke should withdraw his slur on him.
Mr. Jimmy Hood (Clydesdale) : For the benefit of Conservative Members, I have a constituency covering 1,000 square miles with a major agricultural-- [Interruption.] I know more about the problems of farmers.
Mr. Dobson : On a further point of order, Mr. Speaker. Yesterday you said that you would consider points of order raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) about early-day motions. I wonder whether you have had the opportunity to consider them yet.
I have now completed my consideration of the matter the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) raised, but I do not consider that I need to make any definitive statement, since I made my general position clear yesterday in dealing with points of order. I can only repeat that a motion must be capable of debate and not just an attempt, in whatever form, to write statements or outside speeches, documents, or summaries of them, into
Column 972the House's records. No doubt the Table Office will refer to me any motions which appear to offend against those criteria and I will then make my decision in the ordinary way as to whether they can be allowed to appear on the Notice Paper.
I remind hon. Members that, where a draft motion is disallowed, it is not in order to refer to it in the Chamber on a point of order, in the same way that disallowed questions may not be referred to in those circumstances.
Dr. Charles Goodson-Wickes
Mr. Tom Clarke
Mr. Robert Boscawen
Mr. Jimmy Hood, supported by Mr. William McKelvey, Mr. John McAllion, Mr. Frank Doran, Mr. Jimmy Wray, Mr. Tom Clarke, Mr. Sam Galbraith, Mr. James Wallace, Mrs. Margaret Ewing, Mr. Allan Stewart, Mr. George Galloway and Dr. John Reid, presented a Bill to make provision for the control and authorisation of sales from off-sale premises of alcoholic liquor : And the same was read the First time ; and ordered to be read a Second time on Friday 5 May and to be printed. [Bill 128.]
Mr. Allan Stewart, supported by Sir Hector Monro, Mr. Menzies Campbell, Sir Nicholas Fairbairn, Mr. Alick Buchanan-Smith and Mr. Bill Walker, presented a Bill to reform the law of Scotland with regard to the requirement of writing for certain matters and the formal validity of contractual and other documents and presumptions relating thereto ; to abolish any rule of law restricting the proof of any matter to writ or oath and to abolish the procedure of reference to oath ; and for connected purposes : And the same was read the First time ; and ordered to be read a Second time on Friday 5 May and to be printed. [Bill 127.]