[Lords] ( By Order )
By Order ) Orders for Third Reading read.
To be read the Third time on Thursday 15 June.
[Lords] ( By Order )
[Lords] ( By Order ) Orders for consideration read.
To be considered on Thursday 15 June.
The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mrs. Angela Browning): My ministerial colleagueand I take every opportunity, through our marketing grants and other practical help, to encourage the industry to improve its marketing performance.
Mr. Spring: Can my hon. Friend assure the House that support for home-produced British food, which is so excellent, also comes from the private sector? Can she also assure the House that she and her fellow Ministers will set a best-practice personal example by eating good British food at all appropriate opportunities?
Mrs. Browning: On the first point, I commend to my hon. Friend and the House the excellent work of Food From Britain, which this year will receive £5 million from the Government and which also attracts money from the private sector. On the second point, I can confirm to the House that since I was appointed Minister for Food a year ago, I have done my best to eat British food, and have gone up one dress size as a result.
Column 304unfair competition from exports from other states? In that regard, can she confirm that the Minister's statement that he found very powerful the case for restricting imports of foods and food products into this country from other member states of the European Union, where the same standard of hygiene and animal welfare do not apply, is one that she is examining carefully? Can she further confirm that, under the treaty of Rome, there is nothing to stop the Minister using his powers to prevent those foods from being put into the British market, which puts our consumers in an unfortunate position?
Mrs. Browning: The hon. Gentleman will know that there are strict rules on hygiene within the Community and also in the trade that we do with countries outside the Community. The Ministry would always take the necessary action to make sure that food that had a question mark against it in terms of hygiene was taken out of the food chain and that the necessary steps were taken. My right hon. Friend the Minister has demonstrated clearly his desire, against a free-trade background, to encourage both hygiene and welfare-friendly food. Obviously, the best way to do that within the single market is by Europe-wide agreement and enforcement.
Mr. Fabricant: My hon. and slim Friend is far too young to remember that there used to be a "Buy British" campaign. Will she and her Department consider introducing an "Eat English" campaign? If she is clever enough, she may be able to think of a similar phrase for the Welsh and the Scottish. When is she going to promote Britain even more than she already does?
Mrs. Browning: I accept the compliment from one so young, and thank him for it. It is interesting to note that "Produce of England" is a label that is now put on food sold in Paris by Marks and Spencer because the French and other nations seek out English food. In Paris, £40,000- worth of British sandwiches, made in this country, are sold. Throughout the capital of France, they seek out British muffins. Around the world, one can see the success of the British food industry.
Mr. Martyn Jones: One way to encourage the consumption of home- produced food is to discourage imports. What does the Minister intend to do about the estimated 80,000 tonnes of Spanish lettuce which we believe is imported at below-cost price?
Mrs. Browning: On discouraging imports, the answer is to encourage and support import substitution. Through the good quality, safe food which we have in this country, we can persuade UK consumers to seek out UK- produced food. The hon. Gentleman will know that the lettuce industry is currently jeopardised because of an absurd decision about nitrate levels in lettuces. My hon. Friend the Minister of State is working hard to ensure that the English lettuce industry survives, people eat British lettuces, and those European nonsenses that arise from time to time are batted away as quickly as possible.
Column 305The Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. William Waldegrave): The Agricultural Tenancies Act 1995, which comes into force on 1 September this year, will encourage landowners to let more land. This will be reinforced by 100 per cent. relief from inheritance tax for land in new tenancies granted on or after 1 September. That is good news for new entrants to farming.
Mr. Key: That is indeed good news. Will my right hon. Friend now turn his attention to county council farms? Would it not be sensible to promote mobility across the whole farming sector? In Wiltshire alone, 13,000 acres of land are in public ownership with 127 tenancies, the average of which is 26 years. That hardly promotes mobility. Those are excellent farmers, but they need an opportunity one way or another. One way might be to sell the farms to those farmers in the same way as selling council houses; another way might be to introduce short-term tenancies. Will my right hon. Friend look at that problem?
Mr. Waldegrave: It is a matter for the counties concerned, but the figures that my hon. Friend gives show that, in his county--I suspect that other counties are the same--county farms do little to bring in new entrants because of the length of tenancies granted. If the new Act works in the medium term as we hope, it will do far more for new entrants even than county farms have done in the past.
Mr. Hardy: Does the Minister agree that it is essential to ensure that the rural population of many areas is maintained? Does he accept that, if holdings are small, new incomers to farming may find it difficult to make a decent livelihood?
Mr. Waldegrave: There is something in what the hon. Gentleman says. The Government will look at the health of the rural economy more widely when we publish a White Paper later this year. In some areas, farming still plays an important part in that, although we must widen the source of jobs available in the countryside. The hon. Gentleman makes a good point, however.
3. Mr. Evennett: To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what assessment he has made of the contribution his research and development budget can make to extending the availability of home-grown horticulture produce. 
The Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. Michael Jack): An assessment of the Ministry's research and development budget shows that work on improved crop varieties and seasonal extensions will continue to improve the availability of home-grown horticultural produce.
Mr. Evennett: I thank my hon. Friend for his response. Will he confirm that his R and D programmes are designed to make our domestic producers the best in the world, and able to compete with Europe and the rest of the world? Will he also confirm that research moneys which he is giving are used in conjunction with private industry's research funds?
Column 306restructuring of the Horticultural Research Institute, which gives it an opportunity to become one of the best science- based aids to the whole of the United Kingdom horticultural industry and puts it on a good basis to receive money from the Horticultural Development Council. We can go further than that. With the "Technology Foresight" exercise on which we are embarking, on strawberries, mushrooms and apples, we shall look to the future technological needs of the industry.
4. Mr. Mullin: To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he has studied the legal opinion obtained by the RSPCA on the export of veal calves and EC law; and if he will make a statement. 
Mr. Mullin: Would the Secretary of State like to publish the legal advice that he has received? He has had a rough time this week, and one way to clean up his image a bit might be to be a little more open on the export of calves to countries that operate the odious veal crate. Further to his reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Nuneaton (Mr. Olner), does he agree that there will come a time when we can ban unilaterally the export of calves to countries that use veal crates? That will make more impression on our allies than simply being nice to them.
Unfortunately, I am clearly advised that the argument used in the Barling advice, which we studied extremely carefully, does not justify any unilateral action. I believe that we are well on the way to winning the campaign to ban the veal crates, about which the hon. Gentleman and I share the same opinion--most people in the House share that opinion. It would be very unwise to take action that was then struck down by the courts, as that would remove the issue to the European Court of Justice, perhaps for years, just at the moment when we are on the way--if the veterinary report that is coming in to the Community says what I believe that it will say--to winning the argument.
Mr. Knapman: Does my right hon. Friend agree that the way forward is not to ban veal calf exports, which would have a devastating effect on our farmers, but to ban veal crates in Europe, which is an initiative that we have already taken?
Mr. Waldegrave: My hon. Friend is right. If we are interested in the animal welfare outcome, there would be nothing especially smart about banning calves that come only from this country--even if we could do it--if they were immediately replaced in the same veal crates in Belgium, or wherever it is, by calves that come from somewhere else.
The object is to get rid of that practice. We have powerful allies around Europe for doing so--Germany is alongside us on that, as are the Scandinavian countries and others--and I believe that we shall win the argument. That would be a far greater gain for animal welfare, without placing our farmers in jeopardy.
Column 307Dr. Strang: I assure the Minister that we stand four square behind our commitment to give Europe a lead on that issue by stopping the export of veal calves from this country into continental veal crates. I also remind him that, in January, he declared that the days of veal crates throughout Europe were numbered--I remind him, days. Will he tell us when he now expects veal crates to be banned throughout the European Union?
Mr. Waldegrave: On the first point, I have already explained why I believe that the hon. Gentleman's gesture politics in that respect would set the cause back, for the following reason. If he introduced his unilateral ban--which would be challenged, as the Commission has warned that it would be challenged, straight away--the whole thing would be in the long grass of legal dispute, perhaps for years. As I said in January, the Scientific Veterinary Committee of the Community will bring its report back to the Council, probably in September or October. We have a majority in the Council if that Committee recommends the banning of veal crates, as I believe that it will, so there is a good chance that the decision will be taken before the end of this year. That is a far greater outcome for animal welfare than the gesture that the hon. Gentleman recommends.
Mr. Waldegrave: The next Agriculture Council is scheduled for 19 and 20 June. I will continue to press for further improvements to the common agricultural policy at this and every other suitable opportunity, in order to build on the achievements of the 1992 reforms.
Sir Thomas Arnold: Can my right hon. Friend spell out to the House his vision of a reformed CAP? What would it look like? Does he, for example, favour the progressive reduction of support prices to world levels?
Mr. Waldegrave: As my hon. Friend knows, I shall produce a report on that very matter, setting out my opinions in detail. However, in principle I do not think that anyone doubts that we need a policy that moves far closer to the market, and that deals with the real issues of environmental and social support, where they are rightly to be supported in the countryside, explicitly and not by agricultural policy. It is expensive and inefficient to use high food prices for those purposes.
Mrs. Gorman: I do not know whether my right hon. Friend goes grocery shopping, but is it not true that the British housewife pays twice as much for her groceries as she needs to? Is it not true that, if she went to the United States--which I admit is a long way to go for shopping--she would find groceries on sale for half the price, in a country where salaries are generally almost double ours? Is it not true that the common agricultural policy is nothing more than a rip-off of the British taxpayer? It
Column 308cannot be reformed. Is it not true that we should repatriate those powers and return to a system of supporting our own farmers, as we used to do, with agricultural supports?
Mr. Waldegrave: My hon. Friend is right: if one goes shopping in America one finds that food prices are very much lower than they are in Europe. As a matter of fact, the common agricultural policy is not only expensive for the British consumer but is now proving expensive for consumers throughout Europe. I doubt whether a single country in Europe is deriving net economic benefit from the CAP. It must be radically reformed. However, I do not agree with my hon. Friend that repatriation is the best way forward. Repatriation is likely to mean the re-emergence of competitive protection and competitive state aids, supports and subsidies, which would damage British farming as well as the consumer.
Mr. Waldegrave: The calculations are interesting but difficult. If we stop the artificial dumping of subsidised foods on to world markets, world prices will rise. Farmers have less to fear from a world where there is freer competition because of that increase in world prices. The drastic experiment of New Zealand, which was forced to abolish all subsidies overnight--no one is proposing that here--shows that competitive farming can come through, even when farmers are competing with subsidised farming elsewhere.
Mr. Stevenson: When the Secretary of State has discussions with our European Union partners, will he raise the issue of the agrimonetary system? The Secretary of State will know that a significant proportion of the 6 per cent. increase in farm incomes is a result of the devaluation of sterling and the agrimonetary system. What specific proposals does the Secretary of State have in mind to reform that chaotic system, which costs the taxpayer a lot of money? How will he reconcile any reform with the need to ensure that there is no significant reduction in farm incomes as a result?
Mr. Waldegrave: We talked about long-term reform in answer to a question from my hon. Friend the Member for Hazel Grove (Sir T. Arnold). The hon. Gentleman is perfectly right, in that we face a real and imminent problem with regard to agrimoney. That issue will come up at the next Council meeting.
Britain's additional green pound devaluations are caused largely by the refusal of countries with stronger currencies, such as Germany, to allow revaluations. That makes the system break down completely and adds to net costs. We are strongly opposed to that and we are arguing, on the same side as the Commission, that revaluation should be allowed to take place within the agrimonetary system. If that does not happen, British food processors will be severely disadvantaged, as is beginning to occur already.
Column 309Will my right hon. Friend ensure that that fact is taken into account very firmly when considering reform of the common agricultural policy?
Mr. Waldegrave: I agree with my hon. Friend. What is considered to be a small farm in the United Kingdom is a large farm in virtually every other country in the European Community. That is why we are opposed to what is called, in Euro-jargon, modulation--that is, shifting all the support to aim at small farms. Small farms in Europe are minuscule farms here, and that kind of policy would seriously damage British farming.
Mr. Skinner: When will the Minister realise that all the talk about the long-term and a further review of the common agricultural policy is not in his best interests? If he wants to see anything done about the common agricultural policy and get his name in the history books, he had better do it sharpish, before he gets sacked.
6. Mr. Jenkin: To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food which Minister or office in his Department is responsible for overseeing the fundamental review of public expenditure in his Department; and if he will make a statement on the level of possible savings. 
Mr. Jenkin: I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply. I hope that he will be in charge of the fundamental review of public expenditure in his Department because, unless it is driven by politicians, it is unlikely that there will be much of a review at all. My question may be connected with the previous one in that, if we want to see a reduction in the costs of government, there may have to be a reduction in the costs of the agricultural policy in Europe as well as reform; otherwise, it is not really reform in the proper sense of the word.
Mr. Waldegrave: My hon. Friend is perfectly right. As I said in answer to an earlier question, the first battle is to get some sense into the agrimonetary system. That threatens to drive up costs in the short term, which would be really disastrous. The frustration for my Department is that those parts of our expenditure that are entirely under the control of Ministers answering to the House and are without the structure of the agricultural policy--our marketing grants and our environmental grants-- would be genuinely supported on both sides of the House as being rather well targeted, but the pressure is always on them, because we cannot make unilateral cuts in the CAP fund.
Ms Janet Anderson: Will the Minister tell us how much his Department spends every year on tribunals of appeal against Ministry decisions to close slaughterhouses? Does he believe that cleanliness and hygiene should be taken into account when determining those appeals?
Column 310with the answer. I do not think that we have had any expenditure on those appeals, because the tribunal has only just been set up alongside the Meat Hygiene Service.I shall write with more details to the hon. Lady.
Mr. John Greenway: Does my hon. Friend agree that, while the search for further savings in his Department's expenditure is important, it must not, under any circumstances, be achieved by a further reduction in the support paid to hill farmers through the hill livestock compensatory allowance? Hill farm incomes are falling and the HLCAs should increase, not reduce.
Mr. Corbyn: Is the Minister aware that hundreds of thousands of people around the country are deeply concerned about the treatment of farm animals during export? They have been demonstrating peacefully at many ports, and some have been disgracefully treated and prosecuted under the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994. The Department claims that it is trying to persuade European countries not to allow veal calves to go into crates. As that has been so unsuccessful, would it not be better to put a one-off ban on the export of live animals to force others to recognise that people in Britain take animal welfare seriously and are not prepared to see such barbaric conditions continue for calves reared in Britain?
Mrs. Browning: I am aware of the concern in the country about the welfare of farm animals in transit. The hon. Gentleman has been in the House since 2.30 pm and will have heard my right hon. Friend the Minister explain clearly why unilateral action on our part is not only not practical, but not in the long-term interests of animal welfare generally. As for his point about people protesting, peaceful protests are the democratic right of people in Britain. However, I abhor those people who break the law, subject others to violence and quite rightly come before the courts.
Mr. Garnier: May I assure my hon. Friend that, whatever the views of the window box owners of north Islington, the farmers of south-east Leicestershire are concerned that there should not be a ban on the export of live animals, although they fully accept that there is no need to have cruel exports? Will she reassure the House that she will do her best to ensure that the live animal export regime continues?
Mrs. Browning: That is what my right hon. Friend has been doing in his efforts to persuade the Community to raise its standards to those of the United Kingdom. We believe that we have the highest standards in Europe, and this is an opportunity for other countries in Europe and
Column 311elsewhere to raise their standards to meet ours. I assure my hon. and learned Friend that, if his farmers and those people who transport animals abide by the regulations and codes of practice, they have nothing to fear and the trade will certainly continue.
Mrs. Browning: We are preparing advice to parents about healthy diets for pre-school children and we are considering a version of our booklets written especially for school children. We continue to provide substantial funding to the British Nutrition Foundation for its teaching pack for schools entitled "Food: A fact of life".
Mr. Williams: I am pleased to hear about the advice prepared for parents and children, but what about the manufacturers? A survey by the Minister's Department and the Department of Health published earlier this year showed that children under five consumed double the recommended intakes of salt and sugar. Children are daily bombarded with advertisements for chocolates, sweets, crisps and junk food, with the result that there has been a deterioration recently in their dental health. Every year, 25,000 children under the age of five have a tooth extracted. What is the Department doing to persuade manufacturers to cease some of their advertising of junk food for children?
Mrs. Browning: I deplore the term "junk food", which implies that all convenience and snack foods are not healthy. That is not true. I understand the hon. Gentleman's point, however. The Department is working hard, in conjunction with other Departments--especially the Department of Health--to make sure that we put the information in the public domain so that people can make informed choices.
Children of school age have quite a bit of disposable income, in terms of pocket money and earnings. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will be reassured to know that the Ministry and manufacturers have worked with the nutrition task force to put information packs into schools, up to key stage 4, to ensure that children are taught about diet and nutrition. I hope that, in this way, we shall be able to influence the next generation to make informed choices.
Mr. Bill Walker: Does my hon. Friend agree that the most effective way of improving children's diets is to ensure that the prices of fruit, vegetables, cereals, fish and other commodities in the shops are kept as low as possible? Does she agree that that can best be achieved by discarding the nonsensical aspects of the common agricultural policy that cover those commodities?
Mrs. Browning: My hon. Friend will have heard my right hon. Friend's reply about the task force which is looking at the best way of reforming the CAP. His point about fruit and vegetables is important. I suggest that people buy seasonal fruit and vegetables, rather than what are often the more expensive fruit and vegetables, now fortunately available to everyone but not necessarily the most economic. People should buy the more traditional
Column 312fruits and vegetables which are in season and which constitute good value for money, thereby contributing to children's and adults' diets.
Mr. Salmond: Does the Minister agree that one of the key aspects of the diet of children is keeping them safe from infections such as listeria? Is it therefore a sensible Government policy to propose the closure of the Torry food science laboratory in Aberdeen, which has a reputation of excellence in this and a number of other areas? Does she accept that the overwhelming body of opinion in the north-east of Scotland favours saving that vital scientific facility? On precisely what date did the proposal to close it appear on her desk or the desk of the Minister?
Mrs. Browning: I know that the hon. Gentleman has had an opportunity to discuss that with my right hon. Friend. I cannot today give him the exact date, but he will know that the work carried out by the laboratory will be continued elsewhere, so there is no threat to human health or food safety. My right hon. Friend will have heard the hon. Gentleman this afternoon, and I shall ensure that he is kept informed as soon as a date is known.
Mr. Waldegrave: At the Essen European Council last December, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister made a number of proposals to help tackle fraud, as well as waste and mismanagement. These are now being taken forward. They include a requirement for the annual reporting on national action to combat fraud and waste. The Government are giving the Commission full support in its efforts to take more effective action against fraud.
Mr. McLoughlin: I am grateful for that answer. Can my right hon. Friend confirm that there is relatively little agricultural fraud in the United Kingdom? Is he aware of the annoyance caused to our farmers when they see other countries--Italy, for instance--getting away with what is seen as large-scale fraud, particularly to do with milk quotas?
Mr. Waldegrave: I am strongly aware of those feelings, which is why we have successfully pressed the Commission to take more formidable action. My hon. Friend will know that, as a result of a wholly British initiative, Italy, Spain and Greece were taken to the court over milk quotas, and in the end £2.5 billion was taken off them in the form of fines--the biggest single disallowance in the history of the Community, I believe.
Mr. Pike: Does the Minister accept that, despite the Government having had 16 years to try to eradicate fraud within the CAP, fraud is still a major problem? Why should we believe now that the Government, whose time is fast running out, will solve the problem in their dying months?
Mr. Waldegrave: The level of fraud in the United Kingdom, where the Government have a direct role, is very low, as my hon. Friend the Member for West Derbyshire (Mr. McLoughlin) said. In the last year when the accounts were fully closed, which, surprisingly, was
Column 3131991, we had only £2 million of £1.2 billion-worth of fines. That shows that the British record is good. We have been making efforts--they have been increasingly successful-- with other countries, such as the Scandinavian states that have recently joined the Community, to ensure that standards are raised elsewhere. That is beginning to happen.
Mr. Nicholls: Does my right hon. Friend agree that the worst vice in the common agricultural policy is that the British are inclined to obey rules while most continental farmers are inclined to disobey them? Surely the best reform would be for us to get out of the CAP now and become self- sufficient in agriculture.
Mr. Waldegrave: Much the best outcome is to maintain a single market with a proper, level playing field, which involves the avoidance of illegal state aids and of fraud, rather than asking British farmers to compete against farmers abroad who are subsidised by their Governments. That is what our farmers want, and that is the agriculture policy that we need in future.
Dr. Strang: Has the Minister seen the Commission's admission that there is now proof that criminal organisations have been successfully claiming butter export subsidies when they have not been exporting butter? Will he admit that, every year, hundreds of millions of pounds of agriculture export subsidies are claimed fraudulently?
Mr. Waldegrave: Not in this country. I am extremely pleased that the Commission is becoming far more realistic about the extent of fraud elsewhere. That is the first stage in stamping out fraud. We have been supporting the Commission's blacklist proposal--I believe that it was our proposal originally. When implemented, it will greatly toughen the handling of export subsidies. That realistic appreciation of the scale of the problem must come first if action is to be taken.
11. Mr. Wilkinson: To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will urge at the next European Council of Ministers for the termination of European Union moneys for the rearing of bulls for bull fighting. 
Mr. Wilkinson: I am hardly surprised. Waiting for an end to the European subsidy to the beef special premium is about as fruitful as waiting for the cows to come home. Would it not be much better for the Government unilaterally to stop subsidising the rearing of bulls for execution in the bull rings of Pamplona and Aragon? The qualities of these animals are hardly culinary; I would have thought that their qualities are much more combative.
Mr. Jack: I share my hon. Friend's concern about the repugnant practice of bull fighting. He must take into account, however, the fact that British specialist beef producers gain, to the tune of about £119 million, from the scheme. In the way in which the scheme is constructed, it would not be possible unilaterally to implement my hon.
Column 314Friend's suggestion. We shall be asking the Commission, in appraising the effectiveness of the beef special premium scheme, to re-examine the matter.
Mr. Tony Banks: If the Minister of State shares the concern of his hon. Friend the Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Wilkinson), why does he not raise the issue directly? If he did that, we would know that he is serious in what he says. We shall judge Ministers by their actions and not their words. It is appalling that we should be subsidising bull fighting. It is a barbaric activity. Will the hon. Gentleman join me in encouraging British tourists who go to Spain to stay away from bull fighting?
We have already had one go in attacking the practice by reducing the overall level of expenditure on the scheme. We have made it clear to the Commission that we would welcome its positive proposals on the issue. As I said to my hon. Friend the Member for Ruislip-Northwood, we shall urge the Commission to appraise the worthwhileness of the beef special premium scheme in this context.
Mr. Atkinson: Does my hon. Friend agree that the conservation of our fishing stocks must be paramount in any future reform of the CFP? How does he intend to involve the fishing industry in plans to implement the December agreement?