|Previous Section||Home Page|
Column 220the Secretary of State for Transport, but the Agriculture Minister should have a special interest in that. I am worried that the hugely increased costs of licensing HGVs will result in farmers choosing not to license their heavy goods vehicles, and using tractors and trailers instead. As the hon. Member for Dumfries will know, as we both drive on roads in the south-west of Scotland, there are already enough tractors and trailers to hold up all the traffic. It would create special difficulties if there were increasing numbers of them on the roads. I hope that the Minister of Agriculture will make representations in relation to that.
Those were the arguments made to me. An additional matter was mentioned at the end of the meeting, and it has been mentioned subsequently. I know that it is not the direct responsibility of the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, but there is great disquiet in Scotland that the BBC has stopped its Scottish farming programme. I notice the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland nodding. I hope that the Government will make representations to the BBC to restore that vital service for farmers, which was very much appreciated.
I greatly respect the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, who is probably enjoying his dinner at the moment, but unfortunately he made a gratuitous attack on my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, East earlier. All those of us who are genuinely anxious about the reform of the CAP, the improvement of the countryside and the development of the rural economy look forward to the day when my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, East is installed in Whitehall place. It cannot come too soon, and until it comes I look forward to joining my friends in the Lobby tonight to vote against this discredited Government.
Mr. Edward Garnier (Harborough): I shall not insult the hon. Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes), because he might not buy me a drink again, and that would never do. However, I shall thank my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and his team for the work that they have done so far in achieving reforms of the CAP in a measured and sensible way. There is no need for hysterics, but there is a need for firm and sensible negotiations in Europe, and I think that we have had evidence of those in the past few years.
I also congratulate my right hon. Friend and his team for the way in which they have persuaded the Treasury to allow the capital taxation regime to be equalised so that let land is dealt with in the same way as land in hand. That, together with the reform of the agricultural tenancy system under the Agricultural Tenancies Bill, on the Committee of which I was sitting a few minutes ago, will do a great deal to ease the letting of land in rural parts of our country.
I want to draw on one or two of the arguments that were made by my hon. Friend the Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway). It is a technical subject, but it is worth emphasising the arguments for modulation of agricultural support payments. There has been some discussion of the subject, but I wish to give one or two reasons why the Government should resist any movement towards that type of reform of the CAP.
Column 221It has been suggested that there are good reasons why agricultural support payments should be "modulated", as it is called--adapted--to reduce the amount of support being paid to large farms and to increase the amount of support to small farms. I suggest, however, that there are very good reasons why that policy should not be supported and is certainly not advantageous to farmers in our country. It is important that the issue is closely examined, and I trust that my hon. Friend the Minister of State will do precisely that. I want to suggest one or two reasons why that type of adjustment is not good.
First, owing to the farm structure in our country, any modulation of support payments would fall much more heavily on our country than on any other European Union member state. The average size of farm buildings here is about 69 hectares, that is to say, about four times the European Union average. Any policy of so-called modulation would cause a redistribution of support away from the northern member states, and especially from the United Kingdom, towards the southern member states, such as Greece and Italy, where the farm structure is, as we all know, hardly the same as it is in this country. Secondly, it is strongly arguable that employment will be affected if modulation were introduced. In our country, large farms employ more labour per hectare than small farms. If we are anxious to sustain rural employment, and I am, and to ensure that providers of labour are properly paid, and I am, the European Union must not discriminate against larger farms. Concentrating resources on smaller farms will serve only to reduce employment opportunities and may also stimulate a demand for off-farm employment, for which there is currently very little supply, as small farm operators seek to supplement their incomes from non-farm sources.
Thirdly, the development of farming enterprises may be hindered by modulation. A farm that becomes aware of the opportunity to expand into a new market may be discouraged from doing so if it means that the farm is no longer eligible for subsidy payments or receives substantially reduced subsidy payments. Any economic gain would therefore be lost. Artificial farm division may also be encouraged, which would undo any economic gains based on past decisions. Fourthly, small farm businesses do generate lower net farm incomes when compared with larger farms. However, some small farm operators are vulnerable to variability in farm income. When other sources of income are taken into account, their position is greatly improved and can often be at a level comparable to, or greater than, that of larger farmers. I speak as a Member of Parliament whose constituency contains, not only large estates, but some small farms.
However, there is no direct relationship between farm size and efficiency which would support the argument that small farmers could not exploit economies of scale and should therefore have favourable treatment under the CAP. One only has to consider the Danish and Dutch farming position, where there are smaller holdings but high production levels, to realise the force of that suggestion. Sixthly, there is no evidence to suggest that small farms are more environmentally friendly than larger ones. I suggest that a farm's impact on the environment has much more to do with the objects, style, techniques and outlook
Column 222of the manager than with farm size. As smaller farms tend to have smaller incomes than larger farms, the resources available to smaller farms to produce environmental benefits are much smaller than those available to larger farms, so the introduction of any modulation against larger farms will severely disadvantage them and have a bad effect on their ability to devote resources to environmental management. That is a narrow argument, but it is worth making in the context of the debate.
I ask the Government to lose no time in forcing our opinions on our European counterparts. We have witnessed the expansion of the European Union into the EFTA countries which entered on 1 January 1995, and we shall shortly, in the next 10 or so years, consider applications from the Visegrad four--Poland, Hungary, the Slovakian Republic and the Czech Republic.
The financial impact on the CAP and the cohesion and structural funds will be enormous. The impact upon our funding will be about 50 billion ecu, of which 15 billion ecu will go on the CAP expenditure and 35 billion ecu will go on structural funds and so on. The applications from the Visegrad four and other eastern and central European countries to join the Union will be the source of considerable tension within the United Kingdom among taxpayers and throughout the current member states of the European Union. I do not want that to happen and we should anticipate that by ensuring that the CAP is reformed now to meet the best farming interests of the northern Europeans. We will, of course, meet strong arguments from the southern Europeans, who currently benefit from the cohesion and structural funds-- the Portuguese, the Spanish, the Greeks and to some extent the Irish--but we must resist complaints from them. We must make sure that any reform of the CAP takes into account the future difficulties from which we will suffer as a result of the enlargement of the Community to take in the former Soviet Union and its former areas of influence. In that way, the financial strains of enlargement will be anticipated well in advance.
It is argued that the period of transition to encourage those new countries to join the Union is expected to be about 20 years. That is far too long. A negotiating arrangement whereby the Visegrad four have up to 20 years to come to terms with their financial responsibilities is simply too long. I therefore urge my right hon. Friend to produce a policy that takes that into account.
My hon. Friends have already spoken with great feeling and knowledge of the British farming industry. I wish to put on record my support for our farmers. I find it extremely sad that in every debate on rural and agricultural matters in the past few weeks the Labour party has put forward either some fellow from an inner-city area, who knows precisely nothing about the subject, but is prepared to lecture us all about it, or someone who is damaging to the interests of the rural economy.
Mr. Garnier: I urge the Government to play the strongest possible hand in supporting our farmers, who have been the greatest supporters of the Conservative party for many years. [Interruption.] I urge my hon. Friend on the Front Bench to ignore the rather tiresome and silly sedentary remarks from the Opposition. That is typical of the Opposition's stance on the issue. They will
Column 223barrack, complain, whinge and nag, but they fail to produce one positive policy. All they do is complain, whinge and carp. I urge my hon. Friend the Minister to stand up for British farmers.
Mr. Christopher Gill (Ludlow): In introducing the debate, my right hon. Friend the Minister made an excellent speech from his perspective as a Minister of the Crown. Of course he joins a long list of Ministers who have stood at the Dispatch Box and assured the House that fraud will be dealt with. I do not wish to dwell on that point now, but I hope to speak equally well from my own perspective on agriculture. The House will appreciate that I do so without the benefit of a central office brief.
I shall oppose the Labour party amendment for the very good reason that it is pie in the sky to believe that a Labour Government would be any more successful than a Conservative one in negotiating a better deal for Great Britain within the constraints of the existing CAP.
I am pleased to take part in the debate, which would be an important one if either the arguments deployed or the vote could change anything. The reality is that nothing that is said or done in this Chamber changes the CAP one iota, unless there is a qualified majority of Ministers in the farm Ministers Council. The insanity of the CAP is exceeded only by the absurdity of the situation that we face this evening as a result of which the CAP will be totally unaffected by the outcome of the 10 o'clock vote, yet that same vote is seen to have deep significance for the future of our Government. Before I proceed further, I should like to declare my interests. First, as a butcher and a farmer, with a lifetime's experience on both sides of the farm gate, I declare an interest in the subject of the debate. Secondly, as a lifelong Conservative, I declare my interest in the substance of the debate and the contradictions that it poses for my right hon. and hon. Friends.
If I was asked whether the CAP has assisted me as a craftsman, the answer would be an emphatic no. If I were asked whether the CAP had helped me as an independent business man, the answer would be, "Most certainly not". If those same questions were put to other craftsmen and other entrepreneurs and elicited the same response, where is the comfort for the Conservative party? If the Conservative party chooses to accord greater importance to the institutions of the European Union than it does to the interests of its natural supporters in the food and farming industries, it will get its just desserts. I urge my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Front Bench not to dismiss out of hand the terms of the amendment standing in the name of a number my hon. Friends and myself, four of whom are, incidentally, farmers. My right hon. and hon. Friends should recognise that the CAP is unsupportable, unsustainable and incapable of sensible reform.
The failure of the CAP to date is characterised by several features--the incalculable damage that it has done to the pastoral economies of the third world; the damage that it has done even to the agricultural industries of some member states of the European Union; and the massive fraud perpetrated within it, to which several right hon. and hon. Members have already alluded. Nearer to home, anyone with his feet on the ground knows that the average age of our farmers is increasing well beyond 55 years,
Column 224which is not a healthy sign, nor is it indicative of a healthy industry. We have an unprecedented suicide rate among farmers; low incomes in the farming industry; a minefield of rules and regulations; and we are suffering from abattoir closures. Perhaps the House will bear with me if I draw on my own experience.
My company used to slaughter hundreds and thousands of cattle and sheep. We gave that up a few years ago and no longer slaughter any cattle or any sheep because no one in my business was clever enough to best-guess the whims of the intervention board and the other aspects of political interference in cattle and sheep, which suddenly altered the whole buying and selling equation.
Even the pig sector is not entirely immune to such interference. The president of the Federation of Fresh Meat Wholesalers recently wrote to the European Commissioner for Agriculture and said: "We would be grateful for an explanation of the Pigmeat Management Committee decision . . . to introduce a private storage aid scheme for pigmeat, with effect from Monday 6 February. This seems an extraordinary decision to take as pig numbers continue to fall, and as the market is beginning to improve after last year's difficulties.
That the Commission should act in a way that so strongly conflicts with the instincts and experience of industry appears to us as incomprehensible".
A civil servant from the Ministry replied:
"We entirely agree with what you say. The scheme will take supplies off a tightening market and distort the market again in three months time when the meat is released. I pressed your points at the Pigmeat Management Committee on 30 January and voted against the proposal. But all too to no avail."
That is rather like the other report that I read in the briefing paper that we received from the European Commission dated 23 February. In the context of the Agriculture Council meeting that week to discuss animal welfare conditions for the transport of animals, it said:
"After lengthy consultations, however, the meeting ended without agreement".
I am afraid that that is all too typical of what happens when we argue our case at the heart of Europe. In the intervening period, hundreds of abattoirs have closed and we face the prospect of hundreds more closures in the very near future. That fact of life is being accelerated by the plethora of rules and regulations--not all of which have emanated from Brussels; they have been assisted by our own MAFF--which are putting the craftsmen and the master butcher on the scrapheap. The House should ask itself how that helps the welfare of animals, the future of the independent business sector, consumer choice or the risk of cross-contamination, as slaughtering is concentrated in fewer but larger abattoirs.
Conservative Members should ask themselves how that squares with the principles and philosophies of the Conservative party. To avoid any doubt, I remind the House that I am a lifelong Conservative and a capitalist. I believe that capitalism is the most effective means of identifying, supplying and satisfying markets. The House is being asked to support socialism in the form of the common agricultural policy. Any regime which determines centrally what should be produced, in what quantities, to what standards and at what price cannot be described otherwise.
The irony of the present situation would be laughable if it were not so desperately serious. A Conservative Government are apparently prepared to go to the stake for
Column 225a socialist principle. They are prepared to turn their back on their own values and beliefs in order to keep faith with other members of what has become the world's most expensive club. The Government are buying their enemies at the expense of selling their friends.
More and more people are concluding that if they must have socialism they would rather have it from socialists than from Conservatives. That is not to say that there is no market for true Conservatism. I hope that my right hon. Friends will recognise that fact and start to deliver it before it is too late.
Finally, on the question of live exports, will the Minister give the House an unequivocal assurance that mass protests which seek to prevent the industry from going about its lawful business will be met in future with the same response as they would get in other countries--the water cannon?
Mr. Gary Streeter (Plymouth, Sutton): I am inclined to say, "Well, follow that." However, I am delighted to make a contribution to the debate. I was heartened by the speech of my right hon. Friend the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, who I believe is widely respected in all sectors of agriculture and the food industry. He is doing an outstanding job.
I was deeply disappointed by the contribution of the hon. Member for Edinburgh, East (Dr. Strang). He had his chance to reform the common agricultural policy in the 1970s when he was Minister for Agriculture. He failed miserably then and he wants to have another attempt. Why does he think that he would be more successful now? I think that the House would conclude otherwise.
I was even more disappointed by the contribution of the hon. Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler), who is the king of the cliche in hot pursuit of a soundbite. I intervened during his speech to talk about the countryside management contract. He responded by saying that my remarks were premature and that he would return to that subject. Sadly, he did not do so.
No doubt the hon. Gentleman was wriggling with embarrassment at the thought of imposing a system on our farmers which would be regulated by local authorities and linked to Liberal Democrat proposals for regional government. The farmers of Devon and Cornwall would be dictated to by Liberal Democrat councillors in Bristol. That is not a recipe for attracting the farming vote in the far south-west. Very few people like the CAP or the common fisheries policy. There are those who would advocate that they be torn up, abolished or abandoned. Many of us might be attracted emotionally to such terminology, which we may find appealing superficially. In this world of tabloid values, I am sure that many people would support that approach.
However, there are at least two fundamental flaws in such an approach. First, the common fisheries policy--I will refer to it only briefly--is largely about conservation. If it did not exist, we would need to introduce some other national policy in order to conserve our fish stocks. If the common agricultural policy did not exist, we would need a national price support mechanism to support our agricultural industry.
Column 226Before Britain joined the European Economic Community in 1972, I remember how my father, who was a dairy farmer, enjoyed what was then called a "Channel islands premium" for breeding and milking Jersey and Guernsey cows and selling their milk, which had a certain cream content. Those sorts of support mechanisms were in place well before we got anywhere near the then European Economic Community. We need to subsidise and support agriculture for many reasons which have been referred to this evening. If the countries with which we compete continue to support their food industries financially--in the way that America supports its cereal, beef and sheep industries, for example--what chance will our farmers have when low-priced imports flood into this country? Our industry would be wiped out. The only alternative would be to raise tariffs and turn our back on the free single market that we are moving towards gradually.
The second fundamental flaw in the all-too-easy argument for tearing up the CAP and the CFP is that they are part of our treaty obligations. They are part and parcel of our membership of the European Union. If we were to tear up the CAP or the CFP we would be tearing up the treaty of Rome also.
If we are pushed into artificial political integration in Europe faster than we would like or further than we are prepared to go, the time may come when, as a nation, we must consider the issues sensibly. I am mindful of the Bible verse which says:
"How can two walk together unless they be agreed?"
Agreed on what? We should be agreed on the destination, route and pace of change. There are times when we should examine our relationship with our European colleagues and ask ourselves whether we have agreed on the destination for Europe; have we agreed on the route and the pace of change? Perhaps there are occasions when we conclude that that is not the case.
The time may come when we must consider the issues very carefully. However, I argue passionately that that time is not yet here. The argument in relation to the CAP, CFP and Europe generally hangs in the balance. We have the opportunity to shape and to embrace the future of the European Union. We have the opportunity to reform the CAP and the CFP by working from within. Therefore, I believe that it is a pragmatic and sensible policy to continue the drive to reform the CAP.
We have had some success in that regard. It is encouraging to note that intervention stocks are falling. Between December 1993 and December 1994, surplus wheat stocks fell by 57 per cent., surplus beef stocks fell by 80 per cent., and butter stocks fell by 61 per cent. Those figures show that we are heading in the right direction. The overall cost of the CAP has fallen. There have been real savings for our consumers based on reduced support prices. We have taken some very sensible initiatives on fraud which should be welcomed. It is a modest start, but it is an important one. We must recognise that working from within the CAP affords us the best opportunity of entering the longed-for single market in farm goods and agricultural products.
The greatest opportunity to reform the CAP comes from the enlargement of the European Union, particularly the inclusion of the central and eastern European nations, which will drive us inexorably to the conclusion that the CAP must be reformed.
Column 227One of the greatest opponents of CAP reform is France, which is involved in the European Union primarily for reasons of defence. There is no doubt that continual enlargement of the Community helps defence. The day must come when the French must choose between the overwhelming need to create a union of states in which there is security and the decision always to kowtow to the agricultural lobby.
The process of enlargement affords a great opportunity to reform the CAP. We should be in no doubt that if we take on board the central and European nations, the CAP will be unaffordable. I had lunch recently with a former colleague at one of the largest law firms in the city. He is in charge of its eastern European department and spends much time in the eastern European nations. Those countries are getting their act together to overcome the technical and legal difficulties that they have encountered as a result of being involved in the Soviet Union. They are beginning to work their way through those problems and produce more agricultural foodstuffs.
The basis of intervention policy is that the more one produces, the more one is paid. The cost of more countries coming into the CAP makes it unaffordable, yet the political momentum for enlargement is irresistible. It is the irresistible force meeting the immovable object and something has to give. I suggest that what will give will be the common agricultural policy as we currently know it. I have no doubt that the changes will be hard fought and in true Community fashion there will be cliffhangers and last-minute decisions, but the momentum is in the right direction for reform and enlargement is the single greatest incentive for change.
There is now an opportunity--the greatest for many years--to see the unwieldy monster that we have created the in past few years reformed in a sensible and welcome manner.
Mr. Ray Whitney (Wycombe): My hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Mr. Streeter) asked whether the nations of the European Union have agreed on a route forward for both the common agricultural policy and the future of the European Union. The answer to that important question is no, we have not, and it is not reasonable to expect us to do so, but that is the excitement and the challenge of the European Union of which the CAP is such an important and sensitive part.
One of the sad things about the present state of British politics generally is that we have lost the vision of the creation of the European Union as a totally new structure. It is not the United States of America written on a European scale, nor is it a new-style British or German commonwealth. It resembles nothing that previously existed, so my hon. Friend was certainly right to ask that question. However, we must also understand that there are any number of answers or no answers, but that should be the excitement and the challenge to which Britain responds positively. Sadly, however, not all Members of Parliament on the Government or Opposition Benches respond in that manner.
More often than not, our regular debates on the common agricultural policy turn into a ritualistic moan and carp at the CAP and the European Union. We have
Column 228had at least four or five examples of that from both sides of the House today. It is time we started to throw more light on the subject and certainly to bring more honesty to the problems and the success of the much-reviled common agricultural policy. In particular, we should bring much more honesty to our own attitude and that of all right hon. and hon. Members to our continued membership of the European Union. As those of us who regularly participate in the debates on Europe are painfully aware, we are treated in one speech after another to a litany of criticisms. The Christopher Booker monologue is trotted out time and again--be it the CAP, fisheries policy, or whatever alleged iniquity has been inflicted on us by those wicked gentlemen and ladies from Brussels. The benefits of the European Union--and even the dreaded common agricultural policy--are deliberately obscured.
This is a take note debate. It should not be a great party political battle, but a careful examination of the problems, what has been achieved and what remains to be achieved.
Mr. Budgen: It has been made up to be a great debate because the Conservative Whips have tried to describe it as a test of loyalty. That is how the debate was introduced to the public. As usual, it is a gross distortion.
Mr. Whitney: I am grateful for my hon. Friend's invention. As a former Whip, he will know a great deal more about the ways of the Whips Office than I would claim. I could not rival him in expertise in the ways of Whippery.
No right hon. or hon. Member would deny that there are serious problems to be solved with the common agricultural policy, but I should point up one danger, or pitfall into which we are in danger of falling--and, dare I say it, my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Budgen) may be leading the charge to fall into the next pit. It is widely accepted that one of the reasons why we have been wrestling with the problem of the CAP for so many years is that we in Britain denied ourselves the possibility of being in at the beginning to devise and design a sensible structure for agricultural support in the then European Community, and so the CAP emerged as the bane of all our lives thereafter. If we followed the advice of some hon. Members, and of some of my right hon. and hon. Friends, and denied ourselves the opportunity to be in at the beginning of what may or may not be the emergence of a single currency, we would make yet another mistake--and one that we might rue even more bitterly than we have, over many years, rued not having been in at the start of the CAP's construction.
It is important to keep in perspective the origins of the problems and the terrible gloom to which my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South- West cheerfully contributes whenever he has the opportunity and which is shed on all things European by a handful of people--reinforced and amplified in geometric proportion by the media's avid attention. We all know the game that is being played, although I am not sure whether the media understand the game that they are playing.
Ever since Britain became a member of the European Community--late, but we finally made it--we have been pressing for reform of the CAP, and progress has been made. I was a diplomat at the Foreign Office for most of the time of the last Labour Government. They tried--feebly and not very successfully, but they tried. I invite the hon. Member for Edinburgh, East (Dr. Strang), in
Column 229view of the remarks that he makes now, to look back on his own record and that of his former ministerial colleagues when they were in office. If he did, silence might reign thereafter on the Labour Front Bench.
Times change and things improve. In 1988, the CAP was costing 70 per cent. of the EC budget. Thanks largely to pressures exerted by Conservative Ministers, the cost has reduced to 50 per cent. We should rejoice in that progress, and I am sure that I carry my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West with me in that.
Mr. Budgen: My hon. Friend is making an amusing, interesting and vastly self-confident speech, but all that happened was that other aspects of the budget were enhanced. That had the effect of reducing the proportion accounted for by the common agricultural policy. My hon. Friend is wrong to make the assertion that he does. He used to be a distinguished commentator. Not only have the Whips tried to hype the debate, but they have introduced my hon. Friend at a time when he is ill prepared.
Mr. Whitney: I am most grateful for my hon. Friend's flattery, but flattery from that quarter makes one rather nervous. I repeat that if anyone knows the ways of the Whips' Office, it is my hon. Friend. Admittedly his sojourn--
As my hon. Friend said, the budget is increasing and we are doing our best to keep it under control. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister achieved much in that regard at Maastricht. I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West and the House acknowledges the achievements of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. The cost of the CAP is 50 per cent. of a greater sum, but that overall aggregate is steadily being brought under control--as is CAP spending.
I remind the House that significant progress was made with the 1992 reforms and that much of that success was contributed by British Ministers. There were reductions in support prices and in incentives for overproduction, and much greater transparency in agricultural support payments. We should not allow ourselves to think that no progress was made. Since the Government came to office, considerable progress has been made, not least because of the success of the GATT negotiations. The British Conservative Government can take great credit not only for what they achieved for agriculture but for bringing the whole enterprise, after many long and difficult years, to a successful conclusion. In that successful venture great tribute is due to our friend Sir Leon Brittan, the Commissioner in charge of the negotiations.
The other impact of the GATT agreement was that, for the first time, agriculture was brought within the rules on multilateral trade. I certainly hope that people such as my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South -West,
Column 230attached as he is to free trade, would accept that bringing agriculture, difficult though that is, within the realms of normal trading arrangements is a consummation devoutly to be wished. That excellent record of achievement should be acknowledged. As my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, North (Sir R. Howell) said, neither Front Benchers nor anyone else should continue to make these highly exaggerated claims about the cost of the CAP to British families. I would accept the figure that my hon. Friend suggested of about £15 per week per family. As the Minister rightly pointed out, however, world prices also have an impact on this highly complicated equation. It might be argued that it is not even susceptible to serious analysis.
The fact is that, whatever system applies, some sort of agricultural price support would be needed in any country. So the claims and criticisms made by those who continually attack the European Union, to the effect that the CAP is hugely costly to our constituents, are ill founded. Most people agree that there is a need for a CAP of some nature. By all means let us improve its nature, but the alternative would be to break up the world once again into competing and distorting systems of national agricultural subsidies. Anyone who knows what happened in the 1920s and 1930s will know the sort of dangers to which such systems led.
The CAP has been reformed and must be reformed significantly further. Many hon. Members have pointed out that the enlargement of the EU, with the entry of the Visegrad countries, will lead to new opportunities in that regard. I do not say that progress will be easier, but it will perhaps be less difficult to achieve the sort of reforms that most of us want. Let us not fool ourselves, however, that the process can be painless.
I believe that there is a strong case for adopting a much more free-market approach to agriculture. I know a number of farmers in my constituency who are increasingly of that view, so we should be open-minded about it. Instead of spreading more gloom, we should acknowledge that the entry of the Visegrad countries offers fresh opportunities to us all. Certainly, the Germans are as interested as we are in ensuring that change moves in the direction that we want. That, at any rate, is the challenge.
We need an end to the negativism and destructiveness with which we have become so familiar. Often the people who spread these criticisms have no great interest in the CAP as such. They probably also recognise that the burden of agricultural support payments is well nigh inescapable, whatever the means adopted. That type of criticism comes from people who want us out of the European Union but do not have the guts to say so. I offer this challenge to any right hon. or hon. Member on either side of the House: let them for goodness sake nail their colours to that particular mast if that is where they are. It is not, of course, a colour that I personally would strike, because I believe in the future of the United Kingdom and I am sure that this country, our industry and our agriculture can live and survive in a positive and constructive co-operation with our European partners. I believe that those who wish to walk away from that, far from being nationalists or patriots, are little Englanders who do not have the national self-confidence that all the other 14 members of the European Union have.
Column 231I urge the whole House to take a positive and constructive approach to understanding what has been achieved in our reforms of the common agricultural policy, while recognising that we still have a long way to go.
Mr. Elliot Morley (Glanford and Scunthorpe): It has been an interesting debate. Every year, many hon. Members highlight the problems of the CAP, yet depressingly little progress seems to be made with it. Although we have heard some sensible speeches, much nonsense has been spoken, and doubtful figures have been bandied about with regard to the CAP. A quite amazing attempt has been made to blame the excesses of the CAP on Labour Governments of more than 16 years ago. That is going it a bit.
It was somewhat unreasonable and bad mannered for the hon. Member for Harborough (Mr. Garnier) to accuse my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, East (Dr. Strang) of being an inner-city Member of Parliament who has been put up to represent the Labour party. My hon. Friend was born and raised on a farm. He is a distinguished agricultural scientist and was an agriculture Minister serving in Governments when the hon. Member for Harborough was probably throwing bread rolls around at a Young Conservatives' dinner.
The wording of the Government motion is amazingly complacent. It congratulates the Government
"on its robust negotiating stance . . . since 1979".
That is going it a bit, quite frankly.
The cost of the CAP is still rising and is expected to reach £32.4 billion in 1999--a huge increase, as my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on -Trent, South (Mr. Stevenson) quite rightly pointed out. There has not been much evidence of any control in bringing the CAP to heel. There are still fundamental objections to the CAP in its present form. The costs to consumers are still artificially high. The consumers in Europe group estimates that between £16 and £20 per family per week is spent on supporting the CAP.
The CAP puts a block on the future expansion of the European Union to embrace eastern Europe. It is quite clear that we could not possibly expand the European Union and take the eastern European states into the CAP in its current form.
The CAP is still open to massive fraud, and we have seen examples of that. Indeed, the Minister gave some examples. It is fair and reasonable, however, to pay tribute to the European Court of Auditors, which has been astute in identifying and tracking down those frauds. The CAP still distorts world trade and has a negative effect on developing countries. Far too much is still spent on intervention, storage and transport. Again, the more one spends on those aspects, the more scope there is for fraud.
The CAP, by its very nature, its scale and the way in which it operates, is an extremely bureaucratic structure. I have a document here that lists all the publications that have been written on the European Union in the past year. It is a pity that the hon. Member for Hexham (Mr. Atkinson) is not here, as it is the type of document that he likes to read out in debates, particularly during private Members' Bills, as he is so addicted to publications such as telephone directories.
Column 232Even the MacSharry reforms, which were meant to move away from product price support, have not been as successful as we were led to believe. Set-aside and quotas have not been popular and have provided only short-term relief. Milk quotas are traded and leased. Some 70 per cent. of milk quotas are in the hands of people who are no longer producing. A large amount of money is being given to people for nothing. Quotas distort the market. Those who have quotas are in a fortunate position.
Arable payments have inflated land values and assisted the larger farmer at the expense of the smaller farmer.
Mr. Morley: People within the quota-controlled market know very well that it is likely that the day will come when the quota regime will end. It is not so much a question of compensation but of the need to give adequate notice. The various forms of support and intervention methods cannot simply be switched off; they must be phased out.