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Column 605would taste quite the same without the flavour of Wellington boots and farm dogs. I am not one of those who want to sterilise everything in sight.
It would be churlish of me not to congratulate my right hon. Friend and his team on their great efforts in securing the CAP reform package. I genuinely congratulate them because I know the sort of battle that they have had. However, it is important to put the recent decisions in context. My right hon. Friend related what he had succeeded in doing--he had fought this, stopped that ; it has been very much a war of attrition. He also mentioned tobacco, although one wonders what that has to do directly with our country. He referred to the problem of milk production in Italy and Spain and said that we do not know precisely how much milk they produce. That is a sample of just some of the problems, and I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend for his efforts in dealing with them.
European agriculture is now in a nonsensical straitjacket. It becomes progressively tighter and every so often the Ministers meet to tighten the straps or to loosen them--but the patient, agriculture, is no better off and a solution is no closer. The fundamental difficulties that face the CAP are no different from those that face the European Community as a whole. Many different nations with different cultures, climate and working practices are working within a rigid framework, and in my view that will never work
Just as the whole future of the European Community is now being questioned, it is time to query not just the structure of the CAP but its very existence. The Minister has little power over his industry on behalf of the farmers. I am sad about that because it is a very serious position. If we are not careful, other Ministers will find themselves in the same position. My constituents want us to pursue a simple common market--a free trade area. That is a big enough task in itself. Agriculture Ministers ought to consider ways of giving themselves back the power to administer agriculture in their own countries, and devise sensible rules for trade between countries and for environmental protection.
The co-responsibility levy on cereals is to go. We all shout hooray and say that that is very welcome--but it was a crazy idea from the beginning. I understand that stabilisers are also to be abolished ; yet only a year or two ago, it was said that they would solve all our problems. What a colossal waste of time, effort and money. Cereal farmers in my constituency will receive lower prices but incur higher costs. What a long-term prospect that is for them. They have little room for diversification into other agricultural enterprises because of the ever-tightening system of quotas and restrictions. The whole picture is restrictive, arbitrary, anti- enterprise and depressing for the farmers.
My hon. Friend the Member for Gloucestershire, West mentioned poultry inspection. My hon. Friend the Minister of State is well aware of the difficulties that confront the poultry-processing industry because of the ridiculous levels of inspection that it has to tolerate. The cost to the industry since 1990 is estimated at £85 million.
A minor example of European interference in British farming is the decision to abolish dipping for sheep scab. One can make a case for that, but I am convinced that if we were not in Europe, we would continue that practice.
As one who takes an interest in environmental issues, I find it difficult to be very enthusiastic about the environmental measures in the package. That may sound
Column 606churlish, but the best way to protect our countryside is to encourage a healthy and thriving agricultural industry, and to let it get on with it. I do not believe that artificial incentives will prove to be the right way.
The soundest advice that one can give to anyone who digs themselves into a hole is to stop digging. The Ministers of the Twelve should stop digging for a while and, in good old agricultural fashion, lean on their spades and think the whole thing through again. I am certain that they would conclude that the CAP is madness and must be abandoned.
Any European expert will say two things about the CAP. With the first breath he will say that it is a total nonsense, and with the second that it is the linchpin on the entire Community. There we have it. The whole edifice is built on a system that is generally acknowledged to be a farce.
For the sake of our farmers, we must seriously consider repatriating ministerial power and responsibility, establish clear rules for trade in agricultural products within the Community and take steps to protect the environment. We must seriously consider also abandoning the straitjacket of the CAP, which gives the Community a bad name. Historians may view it as the silliest experiment ever undertaken by politicians. If we are not careful, they may take the same view of the entire European Community. 1.23 pm
Mrs. Angela Browning (Tiverton) : I am grateful for this opportunity to make my maiden speech in a debate on agriculture. I am well aware that my predecessor, Sir Robin Maxwell-Hyslop, robustly defended all those who worked in agriculture in Tiverton. I hope to follow in that tradition as enthusiastically as he did.
Sir Robin represented Tiverton for more than 32 years. I know that he was well regarded and respected by right hon. and hon. Members in all parts of the House for his knowledge of its procedure. I do not intend to emulate his expertise, although I am aware of the importance of making oneself aware of parliamentary procedures. When Sir Robin raised a point of order in the House he commanded the respect both of the occupant of the Chair and of hon. Members on both sides of the House--not least in 1976, when he challenged the then Labour Government's Aircraft and Shipbuilding Industries Bill, a measure to nationalise many private companies, and proved it to be a hybrid Bill.
The Tiverton constituency covers some 650 sq miles. It contains five small towns and more than 90 small parishes. People live in small villages and hamlets in sparsely populated areas. Many hon. Members represent constituencies in which the needs of the urban voter are very much to the fore. I understand the needs of inner cities and urban areas, and their requirements must be voiced in a whole range of debates, but it is those who live and seek their income in rural areas about whom I am naturally most concerned. I join in welcoming the reforms of the CAP that my right hon. Friend the Minister has succeeded in securing ; he has rightly gained respect for the part that he has played. It has been said that the agreement is just a framework, but it is surely with a framework that we must start. My right hon. Friend has acknowledged that much
Column 607detail remains to be worked out. I am sure that many of the arguments will be listened to when we come down to the detail. I shall refer to some points of detail that particularly affect the farming community in Tiverton. We warmly welcome the announcement of headage limits, which are of great benefit to sheep farmers, particularly in my constituency, although sheep are reared not only in the uplands but in the lowlands. I hope that my right hon. Friend will take into account, particularly in considering the system of quotas for ewes, all the lessons to be learnt from the introduction of milk quotas in 1984. I hope that he will take them into account, particularly in terms of the leasing and transfer of quota and the problems encountered where quotas are attached to land, of which he is well aware.
Much has been made of the fact that agriculture is an industry. One of the main difficulties that farmers in my constituency have experienced in the past few years is that they have not been able to plan for the future. Farms are businesses and they need to be able to plan and to make long-term projections. They must invest money, diversify or change their business on a structured rather than an ad hoc basis, not least because of the lead time needed to change or diversify.
Family farms in Devon have experienced problems. I welcome the Budget announcement of the abolition of inheritance tax. My farmers have experienced great difficulties. Where a son or daughter is looking to take over from his or her parents, both families may not be able to derive sufficient income from the one farm. If the son or daughter wants to pursue that career, he or she has no option but to look for alternative premises or land pending the succession. For some time, there have been exceptions to inheritance tax law which have been helpful to farmers, but the abolition of the tax will help us to maintain the continuity of what has been a real family business in the county of Devon for generations.
I am delighted that my right hon. Friend the Minister has returned to the Chamber. He has visited the county of Devon, not least last year when I was delighted to accompany him at a somewhat robust meeting of the National Farmers Union. Having read the comments of the NFU, the Country Landowners Association and the Tenant Farmers Association, I invite my right hon. Friend to return soon to the county of Devon. I wish that he had been with me a few weeks ago at the Devon county show when the farming community spoke favourably of my right hon. Friend's proposals and paid a personal tribute to him. That is not an experience which my right hon. Friend has often enjoyed in the county of Devon, so I ask him please to return as soon as possible and avail himself at first hand of those accolades. I have already referred to the difference in the position of those who dwell in truly rural areas and those who live in urban areas. The difference applies not just to those involved in agriculture, food processing or the industries associated with farming. It affects everyone living in a rural area. The needs of rural communities may not be so large as those of urban communities, but the need for adequate health and social services support must be satisfied.
Column 608As this is a maiden speech, I ask for the indulgence of the House in widening the debate and putting on record my interest in and my concern for a group of extremely vulnerable people, both urban and rural. I refer to people suffering from permanent
disabilities--physical difficulties, learning difficulties and mental handicap. I hope that while I am Member of Parliament for the Tiverton constituency there will be an improvement in the quality of life enjoyed by that group of people and a clearer understanding of their needs and the difficulties that they face. I hope that those needs will be addressed in future legislation.
Mr. Colin Shepherd (Hereford) : Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for calling me at this particular time. It is a great joy to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton (Mrs. Browning) after her able and delightful maiden speech. All of us who had the pleasure of serving with her predecessor, Sir Robin Maxwell-Hyslop, will recognise the generosity of her tribute to him and will also note that he has handed over to her a constituency which has a fond regard for any Member of Parliament who takes under his or her wing the welfare of agriculture. I am certain that Tiverton will be well served for a long time as a consequence of its sensible decision first to adopt and then to select such a Member of Parliament. We look forward to hearing her speak again. Agriculture obviously has a very good friend in the House.
The tributes paid to my right hon. Friend the Minister are well deserved. He has clearly achieved for the first time support for efficient agriculture rather than just support for the production of agricultural products. May I also draw the attention of the House to the part played by my right hon. Friend's sidekick, the Minister of State. I am glad that the Minister of State is not here so that I can spare him his blushes. I know that he will return. Every Minister in charge of a Department or Ministry needs an able Minister of State at his right hand during negotiations. It is the technique of playing box and cox in the negotiations that leads to so much success. I am glad that my right hon. Friend and his team have been so palpably successful in using the opportunities and techniques available to them in the recent successful negotiations. It is rare for universal acclaim to be accorded to the outcome of Council of Ministers negotiations on CAP price fixing and reform. Congratulations are, therefore, in order.
I should like to extend those thanks and congratulations to the wider Commonwealth. At gatherings of Commonwealth parliamentarians, it is rare for reference not to be made by parliamentarians from the third world and the developing countries to the way in which the CAP and worldwide agriculture subsidies have undermined their produce. My right hon. Friend the Minister referred to the sale of Belgian oil in Cameroon, but the Malaysians are worried about what has happened to their palm oil. That is just one example of many that are given. It will be a pleasure to be able to point to this agreement as the watershed in Community and worldwide agriculture which began to erode the destruction of the economies of third world and developing countries.
A number of points have been brushed over in the debate. One that has come to light in Herefordshire is the structure of agriculture, of the countryside and of the
Column 609people in it. The average age of our farming community is close to the Community average of about 55. Over the years, the size of agricultural holdings has increased to produce the income necessary for the family. Fewer people are directly employed on the land, fewer people are involved and there is less room for two families to be involved in one holding. As my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton said, with an aging population there is no room for the next generation to join the enterprise until they are too old. There is nothing for that generation to do. It is important, therefore, to address the ability of the 55-plus group to be able to retire, not only to clear the way for the new generation to come into agriculture but to enable flexibility of thought in the agriculture process. With these changes and the new stresses that are being put on agriculture, we are asking old dogs to learn new tricks when we need new dogs to learn new tricks so as to adapt to conditions in the industry. I urge my right hon. Friend the Minister to reconsider his position on early retirement opportunities, as I believe that early retirement can be of great benefit to certain aspects of agriculture, not least in my part of the world where we have many owner-drivers operating comparatively small holdings.
My right hon. Friend the Minister referred to the beef and sheepmeat industries. I wish to draw his attention to the question of stocking densities. Young farmers who seek to establish comparatively small holdings on the high ground in the west of my constituency bring in grazing. The question is to whom the acreage accrues in assessing the stocking density. It is important that we clarify this, because I do not want the practice of buying in grazing, and thereby being able to generate a holding, to be nailed by a rigid definition of who owns the stocking density ability in the assessment for the special premium.
In respect of the special beef premium, can it be borne in mind that grass- fed animals do not benefit from reductions in the price of cereals? My right hon. Friend the Minister said that the level of the suckler cow premium and the special beef premium is set accordingly. I should like him to undertake to review carefully the level at which the national top-up is set so that it does not discriminate against grass-fed animals. That is important to the livestock sector in my constituency. I am proud to be wearing today the tie of the Hereford herd book--the only tie which wholly defines a constituency. The beef of the Hereford suckler herd is very important.
What will my right hon. Friend have on his agenda for the next six months during his presidency of the Council of Ministers? He made no specific reference to that so I shall make some suggestions. The first was touched on by my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucestershire, West (Mr. Marland), who spoke about a level playing field. The playing field may well be more level, but there are still some big bumps in it.
The differential enforcement of legislation is very important. The Maastricht treaty has dimensions that allow for the enforcement of legislation. We must recognise that that is a question for another day, but in the meantime we must put in place what my people call pan-European policing of the regulations so that we can be confident that they are being implemented.
I have seen chicken processing plants in Holland--that paragon of hygienic virtue--where operators were smoking and putting their cigarettes on the counter. I have seen unguarded machinery and things that would not be tolerated in the Sun Valley Poultry plant in Hereford.
Column 610Some of my constituents mentioned a visit to a dairy unit by an Irish farmer. The farmer was shown around and, obviously, the finer points escaped his attention because at the end of his visit--I must paraphrase slightly--he turned to his hosts and asked, "Where is the slurry stream?" How many farmers in Ireland are constrained by the pollution controls that we have rightly introduced and which are reinforced by the National Rivers Authority?
Another problem that must be tackled is the use of technical methods for discrimination. We have an aphid specific to our hops, on which we have to use an organophosphate drench as a systemic killer. My hop producers complain that the use of that particular pesticide is used as a means of barring Herefordshire hops from Germany even though the United States uses the same technique. It is an example of technical methods being used to create a barrier although the product is safe.
My penultimate point is to reinforce what has already been said about getting across the message about hours of work. In the agricultural industry, it is a nonsense to place an arbitrary limit on the number of hours one can work. Young people in the industry are angry : they do not want to be told when they have had enough--they want to be able to use the weather, their ability and their physique to get on with the job and to earn money when they can. The implications of that must be understood and we must stop any nonsense.
Finally, we must put in place now the system that will look to the future. During debates on reforms of the CAP, one always gets the feeling that once we arrive at a deal, everyone heaves a deep sigh of relief and forgets about it and the political will to resolve difficulties falls away until political pressure builds and something must be done.
Our present deal takes us only as far as 1996. If Oliver Walston is considering the rotation of his crops, so are other people. In terms of the planned rotation of crops, 1996 is already here. We must know what will happen beyond 1996. How are we to plan for the future? It would be nice to know what mechanism will be put in place to look beyond that date. How can we have confidence that those issues are being tackled and monitored all the time? If my right hon. Friend can achieve that during his presidency he will have served it well. On 10 April I received a message from my farming constituents which said, tersely,
"Ensure Gummer continues as Minister of Agriculture. We need him for CAP and GATT review."
It is with some delight and relief that my unspoken wish and their written wish has been complied with.
The hon. Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark) lived up to his reputation in the agricultural community, in his entertaining performance at the beginning of the debate, when he regretted that the debate was taking place today. I note from the Official Report that on 22 May he pressed the Minister for an early debate. The hon. Gentleman's consistency is relevant in that he also said on that day that the Minister had sold out the upland farmer. I do not know how many upland farmers there are in South Shields, but there are an awful lot in Brecon and Radnor.
Column 611In this limited time I can tell my right hon. Friend that the National Farmers Union county branches in Brecon and Radnor have held a meeting since 22 May, at which they considered the details of his announcement. They asked me to congratulate my right hon. Friend, in the most public way that I can, on the measure of his achievement in the negotiations.
The hon. Member for South Shields may well pray in aid the observations of the Country Landowners Association--an interesting juxtaposition for the Labour party, if the House will allow me to say so. Within my constituency the NFU and tenant farmers are delighted about the quota arrangements, which ensure that quota goes to the producer rather than being tied to the land, although the arrangement has been given less of a welcome by the CLA.
The special achievement in my right hon. Friend's pocket for my farmers is what he managed to do about headage payments for sheep producers. That is a major achievement and has been recognised as such by hon. Members on both sides of the Chamber during the debate. Perhaps the hon. Member for South Shields should therefore withdraw the remarks that he made on 22 May.
One thing that my right hon. Friend has definitely not done is to sell out the upland farmers of Britain. On the contrary, he has managed to develop support methods which will be even more beneficial to them. The extensification arrangements contained in the reform package are widely welcomed by my constituency, as are the arrangements that enable environmentally sensitive areas--this is difficult to pronounce--which the Minister has been in the forefront of developing, to be developed on a Community-wide basis. It is a measure of my right hon. Friend's success that, coincidentally, two or three days before the campaign started my predecessor, Mr. Richard Livsey, wrote to his constituents telling them that he had visited Mr. MacSharry to put the local farmers' case. I do not know whether the hon. Member for Cornwall, North (Mr. Tyler) was with him. The Government have been criticised about that and in Wales it is said that the Secretary of State for Wales ought to be there to fight regularly for local farmers. The spokesmen took it upon themselves to speak to Mr. MacSharry and to put the case. All my constituents were told by Mr. Livsey :
"John Gummer has criticised me for raising this, but the farmers' union had rightly asked me to raise the subject with the Commissioner. But Mr. MacSharry will still not be moved on the ewe premium thresholds."
Two other people present on that occasion were two former agricultural spokesmen for the Liberal Democrats. I was unaware that the current spokesman, the hon. Member for Cornwall, North was present as well. They were unable to persuade Mr. MacSharry to move his position, but my right hon. Friend the Minister has been able to do so. He has the congratulations of all my farming constituents and all my hon. Friends on the scale of his achievement.
Column 612This is an extremely important debate. I pay tribute to the three maiden speakers this morning--the hon. Members for Hexham (Mr. Atkinson), for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Clifton-Brown) and for Tiverton (Mrs. Browning). Their speeches were extremely good and I am sure that we shall hear those hon. Members make many more speeches here. They have chosen to make their maiden speeches in this important debate on the reform of the common agricultural policy. I had many dealings with the predecessor of the hon. Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury, who was, to say the least, a character. I served with him on many Committees. He was virtually a chain smoker and he used to have to go out to smoke. I was a smoker at the time and I used to talk to him. The hon. Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury said that his predecessor had changed direction on many policies. I said to Nicholas Ridley that it was a pity that he made certain changes and that I wished that he had concentrated on his painting instead because he was a very good artist. I should have preferred some of the changes that took place as a result of his changes in direction not to have taken place. I do not say that unkindly, although I am sure that many of my hon. Friends agree with me. I am glad that those three hon. Members have had the opportunity to make their speeches. We all know how important it is to get one's maiden speech out of the way.
I pay tribute to my hon. Friends the Members for Clwyd, South-West (Mr. Jones), for Pembroke (Mr. Ainger) and for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Stevenson), who also spoke in the debate. The hon. Member for Gloucestershire, West (Mr. Marland) derided Opposition speeches in the debate, saying that we were the only people who criticised what the Government had negotiated. I hope that he will study Hansard. If he reads his hon. Friend's speeches, he will find that few gave unqualified support to what has been negotiated and that several were critical of the Government.
When the result of the election in the constituency of the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton) was given on election night, it was said that he was not a typical Tory and that he was something of a maverick. We know that he is. He raised issues of great importance. Although milk quotas have not been negotiated, they raise questions about what will happen. The hon. Gentleman said that he hoped that the Minister meant that the milk quotas would not be renegotiated and reduced later this year. I believe that it is possible that, in the not-too-distant future, the Minister will tell us about a wholly unacceptable reduction--albeit small in percentage terms. The hon. Member for Macclesfield said that we have insufficient capacity at present and that we are importing too much high value-added dairy produce. That is nonsensical. Any further reduction of this country's milk quota would only worsen the position.
The hon. Gentleman then referred to the Milk Marketing Board. Although I do not want to be side-tracked by that, I believe that he rightly delivered the Minister a shot across the bows by warning that the proposed changes to the board's structure should be debated and need to be considered in the interests not only of those involved in the milk and dairy industry, but of consumers. The hon. Gentleman was right to warn the Minister. He showed that Conservative as well as Labour Members wish to examine the issue, which is a good thing.
Column 613The hon. Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram) is a former Minister and we are glad to see him back in the House. However, I prefer to see him on the Back Benches than in the position that he previously occupied. He highlighted some of the problems caused by the bureaucracy and monitoring of set-aside and the fact that the scheme can be abused and result in fraud. The hon. Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury also referred to the problems of ploughing and to what is done with set- aside land. He was right to draw attention to the question marks that hang over the use of such land.
The speech of the hon. Member for Suffolk, Central (Mr. Lord) went to what I consider to be the kernel of the debate. I share many of his concerns. We have been trying to renegotiate the CAP, which has been held together with sticky tape and plaster for years. We must consider whether the CAP has worked in relation to article 39(1) of the treaty of Rome and whether the latest attempt at reform will meet the challenges of the years ahead. The hon. Gentleman was right to say that it has not met either the short-term or long-term challenges. The enlargement of the European Community and the unification of Germany have created problems that we had not previously imagined. The agreements on German trade could open the floodgates, and the entry of Poland and other countries into the EC will pose challenges that the renegotiated package will be unable to overcome. The hon. Gentleman was right to express his worries. The hon. Member for Brecon and Radnor (Mr. Evans) referred to the fact that Labour Members did not want this debate on a Friday. The hon. Member for Cambridgeshire, North-East (Mr. Moss) underlined why my hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark) was unhappy with the timing of the debate, because he said that he would have to return immediately to his constituency after making his speech. The evidence will show that more Labour Members represent constituencies that are further away from London than those held by Conservative Members. Therefore, if a debate is held on a Friday, many of my hon. Friends have to leave before its conclusion. For that reason, we were unhappy with the decision to hold this important debate on a Friday. The debate is taking place while the Earth summit is being held in Rio. The former Prime Minister described it as a "funny old world". We are debating a system that will take out of production 15 per cent. of cereal land in Europe at a time when people are starving. It is a funny old world when Europe is prepared, because of cereal surplus, to pay farmers not to produce rather than to see that food sent to those parts of the world where people are starving. The coincidence of those debates focuses attention on that problem. I know that it is not as simple as it appears, but it is important that this country and Europe pay much more attention to that problem. In his statement on 22 May the Minister gave little information, was self-congratulatory, and was contratulated by his hon. Friends. Today he said that he had not prepared a shopping list for the negotiations because it was not good policy to reveal the bottom line. As a former shop steward who had to engage in negotiations, I understand that [Laughter.] Conservative Members laugh. We do not know what the Minister set out to achieve and therefore have no benchmark upon which to decide how he has done. He could say that he has achieved everything that he set out to achieve and no hon. Member could challenge him. We know only what the Minister
Column 614chooses to tell us. Do we judge the list in the way suggested by the hon. Member for Suffolk, Central (Mr. Lord), against the original concepts and objectives of the CAP, or do we judge it on price? The Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, who is to reply to the debate, replied to a question this week from my hon. Friend the Member for Carlisle (Mr. Martlew), who asked what effect the agreement would have on prices. The Minister said : "It is not possible to give precise estimates. The reform processes will be spread over a number of years, and during this period retail food prices will be affected by a number of factors. However, at the end of the reform period the retail food price index could be"-- he did not say that it will be--
"some 2 per cent. lower on average than it would otherwise have been."-- [ Official Report, 8 June 1992 ; Vol. 209, c. 13. ] That could mean anything : the Minister need not have bothered to answer. Therefore, we cannot judge the package by what the Minister said about prices.
The CAP will still consume 60 per cent. of the EC budget and there will still be massive bureaucracy and intervention. Is that realistic or sensible? If set-aside is to be regulated and operated sensibly, reasonably and feasibly, and be seen to be fair and to be doing what it sets out to do, bureaucracy will need to be increased. If it is not, the system will be wide open to abuse.
The Minister said that consumers would be £8 billion better off, but he did not say whether those savings would accrue to consumers in this country or to the Community as a whole. I think that they will apply to the Community as a whole, but the Minister deliberately did not say that, because he wants people to believe that only the United Kingdom will benefit. I agree with the hon. Member for Macclesfield that the savings are for the EC as a whole.
Mr. Gummer indicated assent.
misinterpretation, hoping that the press might think that the savings benefited only this country.
The Minister was helpful on interventions about sheep quotas and sensitive areas. It is crucial to determine the areas that are to be regarded as sensitive. Sugar is not mentioned in the package and we need to hear more about that. Some Conservative Members have said that the NFU welcomed the package. On 21 May the NFU said that CAP reform was,
"an improvement but still severe."
That is not unqualified approval. On 10 June it said :
"Government must sort out reform details quickly. The Government is being urged to sort out the detailed conditions of the EC's new set-aside requirements as quickly as possible. This is essential if producers are to be able to adapt their farming arrangements in time to meet the requirements of the new rules "
Again, it raises doubts and questions. In a letter on 29 May, the NFU said :
"the prospects for already depressed United Kingdom farm incomes are negative. The implications for individual farmers vary according to the relevant farm commodities, and the structure and character of their farm businesses. The actual impact on United Kingdom farming in general will take some time to assess as vital details have yet to be settled."
The NFU is not giving unqualified support. It is asking many questions that need to be answered. I know that the Minister said that this will be looked at, but these are legitimate queries.
Column 615On 24 May The Sunday Times --not a Labour supporter--
Mr. Pike : I am glad that we agree about that. The paper said : "The price reductions agreed last week, will, according to officials, result in an overall reduction in food prices of a paltry 2 per cent. at the end of the three years The £26 billion a year currently spent of the CAP will be swelled by at least £3 billion by the new income support for farmers. Only in four or five years is the overall budget expected to fall. Maybe, maybe not. We all know what happens to five year plans."
The Sunday Times also said :
"Farm spending reforms agreed by the European Community last week have been condemned by the EC's own spending watchdogs as a recipe for fraud"--
that underlines the problem--
"and a bureaucratic nightmare. In an unpublished report obtained by the Sunday Times , the EC court of auditors attacks the plan to switch from farm price subsidies to higher direct payments to 9 million farmers."
These issues must still be resolved.
There remain problems that have not been satisfactorily considered. Small farmers are still discriminated against by these reforms, whatever the Minister has said. Farmers are not satisfied with the reforms, which increase the bureaucracy of the CAP and create new difficulties. The Country Landowners Association believes that, although the reforms assist farmers in the arable sector, those in the livestock sector are discriminated against. Development of efficient livestock farmers is inhibited and the reforms will result in a decrease in normal incomes, especially for beef farmers. They are given the lowest level of support and, although it is claimed that they will benefit from reduced cereal feed prices, many farmers graze their herds of pasture land and so receive no benefit. Many hon. Members have made that important point today because if the reforms do not benefit these farmers, there will be no effect on the price of their product.
The Country Landowners Association also says that it believes that the new production controls restrict the flexibility and development of the farmer and that
"they are a substitute for fundamental economic reform." The Food and Drink Federation is concerned that too much emphasis has been placed on production control rather than on reducing prices, which creates a lack of security in farming. It does not think that the reforms are sufficiently balanced and comprehensive. The Milk Marketing Board has expressed its opposition and concern. The Minister said that if Spain agreed to cut milk production by 800,000 tonnes, it would get an increase of 500,000 tonnes. What exactly did he mean by that? Greece will have an increase. The Country Landowners Association also believes that the reforms could affect the relationship between landowners and tenants. There is great concern about tenants in the negotiation of rents. There are also fears about jobs in the industry. One of the factors that we must take into account is the total package. Unemployment has implications for the net effect of the reforms on the economy of the nation as a whole.
The Tenant Farmers Association states :
Column 616"paid labour is likely to be shed from all farms and machinery replacement deferred or cancelled with the use of contractors or machinery rings."
That is another example of how unemployment will increase as a result of this package, with resulting effects on the economy. A number of environmental issues need to be addressed. Although the RSPB welcomes certain aspects of the deal, it wants to know what steps the Minister will take to ensure that farmers who take advantage of the agri-environment package will be able to do so at the same eligibility for compensation payments as those who set aside land short term for periods of five years. I hope that the Minister can clarify that point.
We are anxious to see moves that will improve the environment, but the Council for the Protection of Rural England believes that the CAP budget for this is insufficient to produce any real benefits. The Minister has stated in the past that the Commission officially confirmed that the cost of reform of the CAP could be met within the agriculture guidelines as presently constituted. There is still, however, an increase in costs. The NFU believes that changes must be made to ensure that the reforms are financially and administratively sustainable. I do not believe that that can be said of the package that we are discussing.
Some Conservative Members have said that they would like to hear about the Labour party's policies on these issues. I should love to be replying from the Government Front Bench and setting out a Labour Government's policies. Once again, the Government have negotiated a package that will not last, even in the short term. It will clearly fail in the long term and it will not be good for consumers. Similarly, it is not good for Britain or for the farmers.
The Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. David Curry) : We have had the pleasure today of hearing three outstanding maiden speeches from my hon. Friends the Members for Tiverton (Mrs. Browning), for Hexham (Mr. Atkinson) and for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Clifton-Brown). They paid genuine and moving tributes to their predecessors and gave eloquent descriptions of their constituencies. It is clear that already they have established the sort of umbilical cord that Members develop with their constituencies. All three of my hon. Friends showed a clear perception of the problems that agriculture faces, and the farmers in their constituencies now know that they are represented by extremely worthy advocates.
I have detected a common thread between Hexham and Cirencester and Tewkesbury. Both constituencies have magnificent abbey churches. Hexham's first church was built by St. Wilfred, the patron saint of Ripon cathedral, in the 9th century. It was St. Wilfred, of course, who ensured that the United Kingdom would pursue the continental forms of christianity. The church was sacked in 876 by the Danes. I hope that that does not jar with any sentiments recently expressed in the House.
Both Hexham and Cirencester and Tewkesbury saw battles in the wars of the roses, in 1464 and 1471 respectively. I am happy to inform the House that the Yorkists won in both cases.
Column 617Mr. Curry : My hon. Friend will recall that in the end there was a marriage between the House of York and the House of Lancaster, which produced the Tudors. I do not wish to draw any extrapolations to current circumstances, but it would indicate that jaw, jaw is better than war, war, even in dynastic politics.
The hon. Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark) made a paralysingly unconvincing start to his speech. To say that he shuddered to a halt would be to give a misleading impression of the dynanism of his remarks. The hon. Gentleman appeared to suffer from three problems : he did not understand the question, he did not understand the answer, and he did not understand the distinction between the two. Relatively recently he said :
"Whether the Minister likes it or not it is probably that MacSharry's notions will be accepted."
He then said :
"the Minister, almost certainly will lose the battle for our interests."
Interestingly, he added :
"I hope I am wrong."--[ Official Report, 4 December 1991 ; Vol. 200, c. 295-303.]
That is one of the few aspirations that the hon. Gentleman has a reasonable chance of achieving.
The hon. Member for South Shields talked about Mr. Oliver Walston's intentions. Mr. Walston is a neighbour of mine and an extremely efficient farmer. He has said that he will set aside the protein and the oilseed side of his farm and continue to grow cereals. It is probable that he will do so in the first year, for that would be the sensible course. Cereals will be affected only by a 3 per cent. stabiliser cut. Mr. Walston will find that over three years the price of cereals will reduce. Therefore, the relative advantage of cereals compared to other crops will diminish. At the same time it is true that the Council retains the option of increasing the percentages required under set-aside. If what the hon. Member for South Shields presented to the House were to become a general phenomenon--I do not think that it will, because of the economics--there is a mechanism that will be able to correct it. I would not wish to suggest that Mr. Walston could be described as a typical farmer. I do not think that he would be accepted as that, even in Cambridgeshire, however efficient he may be.
I shall make a couple of general points and then refer to the specific points raised in the debate. The MacSharry proposals were enormously complicated, and at times the negotiations became so impenetrable that my right hon. Friend and I felt that we might even have strayed into a shadow Cabinet election campaign. Those proposals were not the way we would necessarily have gone, had we been producing them. We would not have started from the premise from which Mr. MacSharry started. His fundamental thrust is towards production control and a large number of European Ministers like that thrust because it would limit the quantity while guaranteeing incomes. Controls apply to cereals, oil seeds, sugar, milk, sheep and beef in one form or another.
Sensible farmers in the United Kingdom, who wish to operate in as free a market as is compatible with a sensible return, the maintenance of the countryside and other environmental considerations, would prefer not to find themselves subjected to such controls. However, it is also true that there is a fundamental shift in the package towards the marketplace. That takes the form of a cut in the cereal price. That is the keystone in the reform package