Sir David Knox : Will my right hon. Friend give the House the assurances that if the national milk records become the responsibility of the milk residuary board, dairy farmers will comprise a majority of that board, and that she will consult the Milk Marketing Board before making the initial appointments?
Mrs. Shephard : I hope that my hon. Friend will understand that, because of the duties laid on me by the Agriculture Act 1993, I cannot prejudge any decision or comment on any proposal that might come from the Milk Marketing Board. Suffice it to say that I intend to ensure that the interests of the 29,000 producers are at the fore of any scheme that is eventually approved, whichever aspect of it might be in my hon. Friend's mind.
Mr. Tyler : Is the Minister aware that there is widespread consternation at the delay in bringing into effect the marketing scheme? Is she also aware that there is a perception among dairy farmers, in particular, that she has been listening to the interests of the processors and the Dairy Trade Federation, but not to either the producers' or the consumers' interests? Will the Minister give us an undertaking that no new obstacles will be introduced into the discussions now, given the assurances that we were given by her predecessor in the Chamber and in Committee?
Mrs. Shephard : The hon. Gentleman has perhaps not familiarised himself with the Department's announcements, made on 10 December and 24 January. If he examines those announcements, he should be perfectly reassured that the interests of the 29,000 producers are absolutely top priority, that the interests of 50 million consumers also have been taken into account and that we are talking about many billions of pounds worth of business. They are big decisions ; I am absolutely aware of
Column 404the concern about the delay, but what matters more than any deadline is getting the scheme right, and that I intend to do.
Sir Peter Emery : Does my right hon. Friend accept that most milk producers in the west country are delighted that she is ensuring that there will be proper lead time before the scheme comes into operation? Will she ensure for the benefit of the consumer and producers that Milk Marque and other organisations will have the capital structure and the transport to deliver the goods?
Mrs. Shephard : As my right hon. Friend may have noticed from the announcements from the Ministry, the availability of capital, particularly to meet the board's existing liabilities, and transport matters are being closely examined.
Mr. Campbell-Savours : May I tentatively congratulate the Minister on appearing to adopt the approach taken by the Labour Opposition in the Committee considering the Agriculture Bill with regard to the construction of Milk Marque? Given that Milk Marque will be a very different animal from that proposed by the Milk Marketing Board, would it not be right for the Milk Marketing Board to release all those farmers from the contracts that they have signed, thereby enabling them to take a new decision that may well be different from the one they have already made?
congratulations--tentative or otherwise. May I say that I--like, I am sure, everybody on the Government Benches--regret his departure as Front-Bench spokesman on agriculture, fisheries and food? On the important matter of contracts, we shall, of course, consult on any revised reorganisation scheme that the Milk Marketing Board suggests. An important question for that consultation will be whether producers who have already signed contracts with Milk Marque should be allowed a period to consider their position.
Mr. Brandreth : I thank my right hon. Friend for the prompt replies on that issue that she has given farmers in my constituency. Does she share the concern that Mr. Gerry Fair and other distinghished farmers have expressed at the delay in the new arrangements? If the deadline of 1 April is passed, what might the new deadline be, given that we all agree that it is important to get it right rather than quick?
Dr. Strang : Is the Minister aware that the Government must accept full responsibility for the disarray that has been created in the milk industry? If she has read the parliamentary proceedings of the Committee that considered the Agriculture Bill, she will have seen that the Opposition repeatedly attacked the Government for giving the Milk Marketing Board responsibility for bringing forward the new scheme when, clearly, the Government should have brought forward the revised arrangement after full consultation with the industry. Will she now apologise to the thousands of dairy farmers and the many thousands of other people who work in the industry for the quite unnecessary lack of confidence and insecurity that the Government created?
Mrs. Shephard : I consider that I have already explained the position perfectly satisfactorily to the House. I reiterate to the hon. Gentleman that it was always the case that the board would come forward with its proposals, there would be full consultation with producers and other parts of the industry, that we would consider those proposals and, if necessary, amendments to the proposals would be made. That is the position that we are now in. I should have thought that, from the position that the hon. Gentleman occupies, he would welcome the thorough examination that has been given to that extremely important question. I would at least have expected him to admit that it is right to take time in something that is as important as this.
The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. Nicholas Soames) : My right hon. Friends thePrime Minister and the Minister, and all the other agriculture Ministers, are actively involved with Government marketing initiatives aimed at helping United Kingdom producers to identify and satisfy consumer needs.
Mr. Pawsey : My hon. Friend is undoubtedly the best of advertisements for the quality and goodness of English food. What further action might his Department take to persuade the British housewife to buy more British home-produced produce? How much would that benefit the British farmer?
Mr. Soames : I am grateful to my hon. Friend. As he knows, the British consumer today has a choice and variety of food unthought of even 20 years ago. It is of magnificent quality and is produced in a seamless chain from the field to the table. It is a food industry of which we can rightly be extremely proud, which employs 14 per cent. of the work force and produces 9 per cent. of the gross domestic product of the United Kingdom. The British housewife has benefited enormously from the sophistication and development of the British food manufacturing industry. I can assure my hon. Friend that none of us loses any opportunity to promote British food. Perhaps in the months to come, my hon. Friend will have a chance to see the fruit of the Minister's marketing initiatives as they develop, for the benefit of everyone in this country and our balance of payments.
Column 406regional centres to the efficient running of her Department, and ensure the continued promotion of regional specialties such as Bolton's famous black puddings?
Mrs. Shephard : I am reminded by my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary that the black puddings are made by Jack Morris, but whoever makes them they are an excellent product of the north-west. I congratulate the north-west on its thrift and I reassure my hon. Friend that the regional service centre in the north-west is the mirror of the community that it serves.
Mr. Ainger : Why is the Minister party to the bureaucratic nightmare of arable regionalisation in Wales in which, parish by parish, there is a differentiation--some would say a discrimination? Farmers in one parish may receive £191 in subsidy and farmers in the neighbouring parish, producing exactly the same tonnage of cereal per hectare, may receive £93. The Minister will recall that I wrote to her on 10 December asking why she has not yet explained to the farmers of Wales why she is rejecting the suggestion made, I understand, by the Secretary of State for Wales that England and Wales should be a single region with a single payment. I should like a reply.
Mr. Jones : Is not the farm business survey a poor measure of the actual incomes of farms in less-favoured areas such as mine? Should not the Minister try to rectify that, because farms in my area have a much lower income, probably closer to £7,000 a year, than the £19,000 or £20,000 shown in the survey?
Mr. Jack : I thought that the hon. Gentleman might ask his question from the Front Bench, so, in anticipation, I welcome him to his new role and I join my right hon. and hon. Friends in expressing sadness that the forensic skills of the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) will be lost to us.
The survey to which the hon. Gentleman referred was agreed by all farming organisations to be based on a truly representative sample of farm incomes. I looked carefully to see whether, in its constituent elements, proper and due weight had been given to all types of full-time farming and I was satisfied that the sample did just that.
Mrs. Jackson : Does the Minister agree that, if there is some doubt about the figures, cuts in the hill livestock compensatory allowance are unjustified? Is he aware that in my constituency alone at least 30 hill farmers depend on
Column 407that allowance to make ends meet and to keep their farms going, and that they are extremely concerned about the proposed cuts in allowances, which are not justified on these mistaken figures?
Mr. Jack : I first remind the hon. Lady that, had it not been for the Government, in 1985, extending hill livestock compensatory amounts to the full range of less-favoured areas, the farmers to whom she refers would not be receiving any benefit. The figures of which I am certain are the £550 million of direct subsidies that will go to the cattle and sheep producers in the less-favoured areas and the rise in real terms by one third of farmers' incomes in 1992-93. I am equally certain that, in 1993-94 there will be a further increase of 28 per cent. in those incomes.
Sir Jim Spicer : The sectors about which my hon. Friend has been talking are receiving subsidy, but what about those that do not receive subsidy? In particular, what about the pig industry, which is facing a major crisis and in which many hundreds of our producers will be going out of business unless something positive is done by the United Kingdom Government, alongside all that is being done, often in an underhand way, within the EC?
I am also aware of the pig industry problem. It is very cyclical, but our pig producers are among the most efficient in the Community. Developments such as the signicant reduction in interest rates are benefiting those in the pig production industry as well as hill farmers.
Mr. Peter Atkinson : Is my hon. Friend aware of the growing anxiety among hill farmers in my constituency that the payment of HLCAs and ewe premium will be linked, in some way, with a substantial reduction in sheep stocking levels on the hills? Will my hon. Friend assure me that, if he uses that weapon, it will be linked with a headage payment, so that we can continue to guarantee the livelihood of hill farmers?
Mr. Jack : I am glad that my hon. Friend has raised that point. I became aware of its significance recently, when I visited Cumbria and discussed with regional representatives some of the problems that poor moorland management can cause in regard to grazing land. As my hon. Friend will know, all farmers in receipt of HLCAs have received a code of good upland management. He will also know that over-grazing is a major problem. When such matters are drawn to our attention, however, a report dealing with all the aspects will be requested from the Agricultural Development Advisory Service. That report will be discussed with sheep farmers, in particular, before any action is taken.
Mr. Llwyd : There have been huge cuts in HLCA support for less- favoured areas. Has it occurred to the Minister that--by coincidence or otherwise--many of those areas are also environmentally sensitive? Is it not time to consider extending environmentally sensitive area status throughout the United Kingdom? There is certainly a valid case for extending it throughout wales.
Column 408clear a moment ago when I read out the figures. Some £550 million is spent on direct subsidies for cattle and sheep farmers in less-favoured areas.
The hon. Gentleman will know that six more environmentally sensitive areas are to be announced this year, bringing the total to 15 per cent. of the entire United Kingdom land area. We take our responsibilities very seriously. Moreover, in addition to the subsidies that I mentioned, further payments associated with ESAs will benefit precisely the hill farmers whom the hon. Gentleman has in mind.
Mr. Devlin : In view of the welcome announcement of the biodiversity reports on Tuesday, will my right hon. Friend and her scientific advisers now set specific targets to aid the conservation of wildlife, which is dependent on farming?
Mrs. Shephard : The Government's biodiversity action plan has set broad targets for action ; we have also announced a proposal to establish a biodiversity action plan steering group, which will include representatives of major conservation bodies. The group will advise the Government on the development of a range of environmental management policies. My Department will play a full part in the achievement of those targets.
Mrs. Shephard : As the hon. Gentleman will know, the use of BST is currently subject to an EC moratorium of one year. We have urged the EC to take note of scientific advice, and also to profit from the lifting of the ban in the United States. The Commission will now be able to study the effect of that move.
Mr. John Greenway : Does my right hon. Friend agree that, regardless of whether some of our upland areas are ESAs, there is an agreement, especially in national parks such as those in North York moors, not to overstock with sheep and cattle? Does she therefore agree that it is crucial that the differential created by the hill livestock compensatory allowance for farmers in those upland areas is maintained because without it they cannot farm, whether in environmentally sensitively or others?
Mr. Morley : Did the Minister's scientific advisers point out the importance of field margins in supporting plants and animal species? Is she aware that in the past 15 years nearly a quarter of all hedgerows have disappeared?
Column 409Is she also aware that the biodiversity action plan contains no mention of a hedgerow protection Bill, although such a Bill was a Government manifesto commitment? Will she use her influence in the Cabinet to press for that manifesto commitment to be honoured, or is that to be yet another broken Tory promise?
Mrs. Shephard : I can reassure the hon. Gentleman that I try to use my influence in the Cabinet in a number of ways. As for field margins, the hon. Gentleman is expert in these matters so I am sure that it will not have escaped his notice that many of the ESA schemes, the number of which is of course shortly to be increased to 22, include the careful and sensitive use of field margins.
Mr. Paice : Will my right hon. Friend ensure that she talks to the Department of Health and takes the very best scientific advice before formulating new policies on farming and food? Does she agree that simply because modern technology means that we can detect the minutest traces of nitrates or pesticides, it does not automatically follow that such traces are bad for our health, and that we must have a sense of proportion in these matters?
Mrs. Shephard : We certainly work closely with the Department of Health on those matters. I am a firm advocate of common sense and old enough to remember the saying about "eating pecks of dirt before you die".
Mr. McFall : How will the Minister meet the legally binding requirements of the multi-annual guidance programme now that his iniquitous tie-up scheme has been sent to the European Court of Justice? Does he not realise that a properly funded and sensible decommissioning scheme is necessary? Will he therefore reply to the Scottish fishermen who produced a document on alternative conservation which they sent to him in September and on which they are still awaiting a reply? Will he delay any decisions until meaningful consultation has taken place with the industry?
Mr. Jack : I very much welcome the tone of the hon. Gentleman's question because he is right to emphasise the importance of meaningful discussion with the industry. I did not rule out a role for decommissioning in our plans, but the House agreed that, to be effective, decommissioning required an element of effort control and, clearly, days at sea was part of our original plan. We still have the benefits of licence aggregation which forms part of our policy and, following a meeting with Commissioner Paleokrassas, I am considering the role that technical conservation measures can play. I assure the hon. Gentleman that I shall discuss that with the National Federation of Fishermen's Organisations and the Scottish Fishermen's Federation.
Column 410fisheries unless it is absolutely necessary? Will he join me in condemning those who take a short-term view of fish stocks? Does he agree that there is no point in allowing boats to overfish today if it means the end of the entire industry tomorrow?
Mr. Jack : My hon. Friend puts his finger on an important point. A full scientific assessment was certainly part of our discussions at the December Fisheries Council to determine the overall allowable catch and quota, not only for our fishermen but for those of other Community countries. It is important in terms of day-by-day, month-by-month quota management to take into account the long-term implications, because if too much fish is taken in the short term, there will, as my hon. Friend says, be none left in the long.
Mr. Austin Mitchell : I hope that the Minister will now accept that he was warned by hon. Members on both sides of the House not to go down that road of days at sea limitations and that, having gone down that dead- end street, the responsibility is his for curing the industry's problem by introducing a more effective and more generous decommissioning scheme to limit effort and by introducing a wider range of conservation measures in consultation with the industry. Has not the time come to stop dithering and to get on with introducing competition?
Mr. Jack : The hon. Member will know that my style has always been to try to talk with the industry. The hon. Gentleman says that it is our job to sort out the industry. To put it simply, unless there is dialogue and partnership, no edicts from me will sort out the fundamental problem of too much fishing capacity in relation to the quantities of fish in the sea. There has to be a responsible attitude on both sides of the equation. I give the hon. Gentleman the assurance that I will continue to discuss with the industry other ways of conserving fish and reducing effort, and technical conservation measures will be among them.
Mrs. Gillian Shephard : The Ministry issued a supplementary guidance note on 6 December, reflecting the European Commission's clarification of the circumstances in which producers may retain their existing butterfat base when converting direct sales quota to wholesale quota.
Mr. Clapham : I thank the Minister for that answer. Is she aware, however, that that supplementary guidance note is backdated to July and that it has caused great hardship? Let me give her an example from my constituency. I met farmers at my surgery a fortnight ago and I was told by one farmer that he had applied to change his milk quota from direct sales to wholesale and he expected that the measured butterfat level would be applied, only to find in December, when he received the supplementary note, that a level of 3.8 per cent. was applied, which meant that he had to provide another 70,000 litres of milk to meet the quota.
Does the Minister agree that that is unsatisfactory and that the 1993-94 guidance note should continue until the end of the milk year? Will she also tell the House whether
Column 411dairy farmers in other EC countries received their supplementary advice note at an earlier date than dairy farmers in the United Kingdom?
Mrs. Shephard : I totally agree with the hon. Gentleman that it was unacceptable that the European Commission issued a note of clarification eight months into the quota year. We issued our note of clarification following the Commission's as soon as we could. The Commission's note came to us on 25 November and I have taken up the issue of that lateness with it, and with the Commissioner himself, in the strongest terms.
I know that the hon. Gentleman has been in touch about his individual constituents. Three hundred and eighty producers are affected ; 53 have applied to retain their existing butterfat base and, of those, 41 have been approved. We are handling the matter as sympathetically as we can. I think the hon. Gentleman also knows that we responded to the British National Farmers Union request to extend the deadline for quota leasing until the end of December. The situation is absolutely unsatisfactory and I shall continue to point that out to the Commissioner.
Mr. Fabricant : Does my right hon. Friend accept that there is some concern among farmers in my constituency of Mid-Staffordshire about the intent of the Council of Ministers and the possible cutting of milk quotas in the United Kingdom? Will she confirm that she will resist all attempts by the Council of Ministers to cut those quotas?
Mrs. Shephard : We avoided a quota cut for the current quota year-- indeed, we achieved an increase of 0.6 per cent.--and we will certainly resist any proposal for a quota cut in Britain in the coming year.
Mr. Molyneaux : Can the right hon. Lady assure me that United Kingdom farmers who live in Northern Ireland will not be placed at a disadvantage under the present modified scheme, as they definitely were when milk quotas were first announced and introduced, and subsequently?
Mrs. Shephard : I think that the right hon. Gentleman will have heard that I said that the whole matter was being dealt with as sympathetically as possible. I shall draw his concern to the attention of my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, and I am sure that equal sympathy will be extended to producers in Northern Ireland.
8. Mr. Charles Kennedy : To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what assessment she has made of the potential impact of the accession of Spain and Portugal to the common fisheries policy ; and if she will make a statement.
12. Dame Jill Knight : To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food when she last met representatives of the fishing industry to discuss the questions arising from the Spanish and Portuguese treaty of accession.
Mr. Jack : Following the conclusion of the Fisheries Council on 21 December, I remained in Brussels to give a full explanation to representatives of the United Kingdom industry on the proposals to deal with Spanish and
Column 412Portuguese accession. The full impact of those proposals will depend on Council decisions which have yet to be taken.
Mr. Kennedy : I appreciate the efforts that the Minister made to keep the Scottish Fishermen's Federation and other groups up to speed with what was developing in December. Will he confirm that he will bear in mind the genuine deep-seated anxiety, not least among west coast fishermen, at the possible impact of the accession, and will he comment on the Department's and the Government's thinking on the legality of the accession under European law?
Mr. Jack : I thank the hon. Gentleman for his kind words. I did my best to keep the fishermen well informed. It was right that they should be given a full statement on what was occurring, for the avoidance of doubt. On legality, we established at an early stage that both the original Commission and the subsequent presidency compromise text was consistent with the appropriate parts of the European treaty. The hon. Gentleman is right to emphasise the western approaches, and we made it clear that we gave equal weight to the western approaches and the North sea. On Monday, when I visited Commissioner Paleokrassas, I restated our firm position on the matter and the concerns of fishermen throughout the United Kingdom.
Dame Jill Knight : May I invite my hon. Friend to use this opportunity to reaffirm his determination to protect the interests of fishermen in the North sea and elsewhere? I congratulate him on sidelining the unsatisfactory proposals from the Commission and assure him that on both sides of the House there is support for the interests of British fishermen--and, for that matter, for the interests of British fish eaters, of whom there are many in Birmingham, notably at our splendid Harry Ramsden's.
Mr. Jack : As somebody who came from Yorkshire, I know about Harry Ramsden's, and I am glad that my hon. Friend mentioned that aspect. I am also glad that my hon. Friend, as a Birmingham Member, has spoken on this subject, because I had the pleasure of visiting Birmingham fish market last Friday, and a goodly supply of fish was seen. It is indeed important that in the negotiations on Spanish and Portuguese accession we preserve the fishing rights of our fishermen in order to ensure that people in Birmingham, especially those who buy their fish and chips from Harry Ramsden's, can continue to enjoy all the fish that they enjoy at present.
Mr. Robert Hughes : Is the Minister aware that wherever the Spanish fleet has operated, whether in Namibian or United Kingdom waters, it has fished in gross violation and total disregard of the rules? Whatever agreements or arrangements may be made for the accession, there must be adequate policing to ensure that the Spaniards do not simply rape our waters, as they have done throughout their history.
Mr. Jack : The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. Enforcement is the key to the effectiveness of the common fisheries policy. I have made it clear at the European Fisheries Council and to the Commissioner that unless enforcement is taken seriously, he will not have a credible policy for our fishermen. From 1 January this year, a new control regulation has been in force that introduces, for example, random inspection by Community inspectors.
Column 413When I raised the matter with Commissioner Paleokrassas, he was seized of the need to strengthen yet further those inspection procedures.
Mr. Harris : Is my hon. Friend aware that a leading member of the fishing industry has said to me how pleased he was at the way in which my hon. Friend defended British interests at the Fisheries Council meeting? Does he agree that the threat is still there, and will he re-emphasise the fact that the interests of west coast fishermen will not be sacrificed in any way to those of North sea fishermen, because the real threat is in the western approaches, rather than the North sea?
Mr. Jack : As I said a moment ago, in all my discussions I laid equal emphasis on the problems in the North sea and in the western approaches. However, I also commend to my hon. Friend the stepping stone approach which the proposed Commission regulation took on the matter. After tough negotiating from the United Kingdom, it was made absolutely certain that there would be no sacrifice of the principle of free access to Community waters without sound polices to replace the present regime. The interests of fishermen are uppermost in my mind in negotiating those details.
Mrs. Ewing : Will the Minister give a commitment that he will study in great detail the recent report from the European Parliament's directorate of research which shows quite clearly that in the 19 agreements which have been reached with other countries, Spain has taken the lion's share? Indeed, I believe that Spain has 520 boats out of the 736 that operate in those international waters. That belies the fact that Spain claims that, unless it has access to the North sea, the fishing industry in Spain would be in dire straits. May we have a clear commitment that the Government will study that report very carefully and review once more the legality of access to the North sea in particular, given its importance for Scottish fishermen?
Mr. Jack : I will certainly study that document. I am very aware of the sensitivities in respect of Spain. Any changes will have to take into account individual track records of particular countries. The option to do nothing is not there. I have checked the legality of what is before us and I am satisfied that it conforms with European law.
Mrs. Gillian Shephard : There is a significant net cost to United Kingdom consumers and to United Kingdom taxpayers from the CAP. For a number of reasons, of which my hon. Friend will be aware, it is not possible to be precise about the figure.
Mr. Evans : I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply. Does she realise that my wife Janice tells me that the average family is paying £28 to support the CAP? Does my right hon. Friend also agree with Janice that if the leader of the lot opposite, the wriggler from Monklands, East, and Romeo from Yeovil, the leader of the other lot opposite, ever got their hands--
Mr. Evans : If they ever got their hands on the Brussels cheque book, the £80 a week by which the average family is better off after 14 years of Conservative Government would disappear like rats up a drainpipe.