[Lords] ( By Order ) Amendment proposed [26 June]: No. 1, in the preamble, page 2, line 10, at the end, to insert the words
`but not of their duty to use the land for educational purposes'.--[ Mr. Cohen. ]
Order read for resuming adjourned debate on Question, That the amendment be made.
Debate further adjourned till Thursday 9 November.
1. Mr. Austin Mitchell: To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food when he next intends to meet the National Federation of Fishermen's Organisations to discuss the state of British fishing. 
The Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. Douglas Hogg): My hon. Friend the Minister of State, who has direct responsibility for fishing policy, holds regular meetings with the National Federation of Fishermen's Organisations and I look forward to doing so as well.
Mr. Mitchell: When he has finished expressing his gibbering gratitude to the National Federation of Fishermen's Organisations for saving him from the iniquities of the days at sea limitation regime, will the Minister discuss whether it is right or reasonable that the country that contributes the majority of fishing waters and fishing stocks to the so-called European Community pool should be forced to make the biggest reduction in its fleet? Will he consider not simply decommissioning to make space for Spanish vessels but adopting a scrap and build policy to modernise the fleet so that we can catch our own fish?
Mr. Hogg: The essential problem that the House must face is that there is excess fishing capacity measured against the available stocks. Judged according to that criterion, a policy of scrap and build is not manifestly sensible. We must reduce capacity, and the Government's policy of decommissioning is directed at achieving that objective.
Column 376Mr. Harris: In the opinion of some fishermen --although they do not shout it from the wheelhouses--our hon. Friend the Minister with responsibility for fisheries has not made a bad start in his new post. The fishermen and the NFFO particularly welcome the abandonment of the wretched days at sea legislation. Will my right hon. and learned Friend build on that start by accepting the offer from the chief executive of the NFFO, Mr. Barrie Deas, to open talks with the Government on the future of the industry?
Mr. Hogg: I am sure that my hon. Friend is correct when he says that the actions of my hon. Friend the Minister of State are widely admired in the House and in the fishing industry. I suspect that that is why 134 Labour Members of Parliament declined to vote against the Government position when the matter was debated about 10 days ago. As to a specific meeting to discuss the way forward, my hon. Friend the Minister of State has frequent meetings that are designed to achieve that objective.
The Government would like to see a doubling of the area of woodland in England over the next half century. However, as the rural White Paper explains, that will depend on securing necessary changes to the common agricultural policy. There are no targets for individual counties.
Mr. Rendel: What plans does the Minister have to try to encourage the reforestation of Britain and to increase payments under the farm woodland premium scheme to encourage farmers to plant their own land?
Mr. Hogg: As the House knows, we already have a very generous grant system in place. Last year, we paid about £30 million in grants to woodland owners. We have led the way within the European Union in greening the common agricultural policy in that respect. The 1992 regulations reflected our own woodlands scheme which was introduced in 1988. As a result of a United Kingdom initiative, land that is used for forestry can now count against set-aside. They are major steps forward and I commend them to the hon. Gentleman.
Column 377European Commission proposals relating to the promotion and marketing of fresh fruit and vegetables? Does he agree that such proposals will seriously disadvantage the British grower and will he, therefore, assure the House that he will do all within his considerable power to ensure that there is a level playing field so that our growers are not disadvantaged?
Mr. Boswell: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his trenchant comments. I share his concern and that of the National Farmers Union that the proposals being initiated in Europe for the reform of the common agricultural policy on horticulture should be fair to Britain. We have already expressed concern about their definition of producer groups--that is our main concern. We are determined to secure a level playing field for our growers and, as far as possible, to end wasteful intervention. Those matters will all be taken forward in the negotiations.
Mr. Pickthall: How far have we got in our defence of British lettuce growers against the unreasonable regulations proposed on nitrates in lettuce? When can we expect that preposterous idea to be knocked on the head?
Mr. Boswell: I share the hon. Gentleman's concern. We take the matter seriously and believe that the proposals are not well founded scientifically. If they were implemented, they would certainly have serious effects on our lettuce growers; they would not contribute to health, as they would discourage the consumption of vegetables and fruit. We shall therefore pursue the matter vigorously in Europe. It has only just come back to us as a result of the report of the EC Scientific Committee for Food, which corroborated our view, and we shall pursue the matter vigorously over the coming weeks and months.
Mr. James Hill: My hon. Friend will realise that some supermarkets-- I shall name Tesco as their leader--have advocated the eating of Cox's orange pippins and other varieties such as Granny Smiths. That practice should be encouraged. Perhaps there should be an encouraging word from the Department to the supermarkets to increase public relations on the eating of English fruit and vegetables.
Mr. Boswell: The House will appreciate that we have to be a little careful in merely advocating the buying of British produce. At every possible opportunity, I shall be photographed eating an English apple-- whether Cox's or otherwise. At every possible opportunity, I shall encourage British supermarkets to stock those varieties and I shall encourage everyone in the House and outside to proclaim their virtue to the customer, who will be well satisfied with them.
Mrs. Golding: When will the Government stand up for British fruit growers? Not only do the Government support French nuclear testing in the Pacific but they stand by while the French dump their apple mountains in Britain. How many more of our apple orchards does the Minister want ripped out by desperate farmers? When will he do something to prevent that, or are the Government too afraid of offending the French?
Mr. Boswell: I congratulate the hon. Lady on her first appearance at the Dispatch Box. It is a matter of regret that I have to dissent from almost everything she said--possibly, on reflection, she might do so herself. We have supported the interests of British growers. The
Column 378grubbing-up scheme was introduced--in the United Kingdom and elsewhere--with the support of our growers. It has helped to remove some of the tail end of the industry and we now have a modern, productive and efficient fruit production industry which is well marketed and receives a great deal of support from growers and retailers. We have every confidence that, through technology, marketing and the involvement of growers, together with the encouragement of our Department, we shall wipe the floor with our competitors.
Mr. Pickles: Further to the question of the hon. Member for Lancashire, West (Mr. Pickthall), when he visited my constituency without notice, he was told by growers there that, had it not been for the British Government's intervention, they would now be faced with the nitrates directive. Will my hon. Friend accept the congratulations of growers in my constituency? Thank God somebody stuck up for Britain, and it has benefited the rest of Europe.
Mr. Boswell: I am grateful for my hon. Friend's remarks. As it happens, he represents my birthplace, and it is nice to receive compliments. We take the matter seriously, and use every opportunity to protect the interests of British growers. We will ensure that butterhead lettuce grown in Britain, whether in the constituency of my hon. Friend or in Lancashire, West, is available for the benefit of our consumers.
The Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. Tony Baldry): We are seeking further reforms of the CAP to reduce the scope for fraud--in particular, to reduce dependence on export refunds and intervention. We also fully support Commission initiatives to apply financial penalties to member states where controls are found to be inadequate.
Mr. Prentice: I welcome that answer as far as it goes, but what on earth have the Government been doing since 1979, given that the CAP has ballooned by 43 per cent. and that fraud accounts for £6 billion out of a budget of £33 billion? Is it not the case that the CAP is infested with fraudsters and cheats ripping off the rest of us, and that the Government have done far too little, too late?
Mr. Baldry: The hon. Gentleman's comments are uncomplimentary and unfair, because the United Kingdom has very much taken the lead in the European Union in tackling fraud. I invite him to cast his mind back to the Essen summit, where my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister ensured far greater use of the European Court of Auditors and of the European Parliament in scrutinising financial management and bearing down on fraud.
The hon. Gentleman's figure for the extent of fraud is without any foundation. The only basis on which one can estimate fraud is the reported number of incidents, and they bear absolutely no relationship to the hon. Gentleman's figure. In 1994, member states reported irregularities of just over 1 per cent. of the CAP budget--
Column 379hardly the kind of excesses that the hon. Gentleman suggested. Of course all fraud is serious, and of course we are determined to continue to bear down on it in the European Union.
congratulations of Conservative Members on the Government's action against fraud? Does he agree that, if the CAP is to be reformed, it is essential to continue to attack fraud?
Mr. Baldry: I absolutely agree. Of course it is imperative that fraud is eliminated from the CAP or any other policy. The fight against fraud remains a high priority for us. We will continue to keep pressuring the Commission for action further to reform the CAP and to reduce instances of CAP fraud. The Council is negotiating reforms in the fruit and vegetable sector, and we fully support initiatives such as the black list, which is aimed at penalising those who perpetrate fraud.
Mr. Darling: Given that the CAP costs families between £15 and £20 a week, is it not time to embark on a radical reform of the CAP? Can the Minister make a commitment that the Government will raise the matter at next year's intergovernmental conference with a view to amending, if necessary, those parts of the treaty of Rome that affect the CAP, so that the system is fairer, more efficient and less likely to lead to fraud, but leads instead to a reduction in expenditure for most people throughout Europe, including in this country?
Mr. Hogg: The Government's position in support of their policy of reforming the common agricultural policy is extremely well known, and we take every opportunity to impress on the Council, the Parliament and the Commission the need for substantial reform--especially in the context of enlargement and also because of the ceilings of the general agreement on tariffs and trade. The hon. Gentleman's advocacy of that policy would be more plausible if the Labour party manifesto of 1992 had touched on the subject at all, and if the party had dealt with the question at its party conference in September.
Mr. Wilkinson: Is it not a remarkable state of affairs that the policy should so totally lack credibility as to require satellite imagery to counteract fraud? Would not the best course of action for the Government be to tear up the CAP and to replace it with national efficiency payments for British farmers?
Mr. Hogg: I regret having to disagree with my hon. Friend but I do so strongly in respect of his conclusions. Nor do I agree that the policy lacks credibility. The problem with the common agricultural policy is that, although the United Kingdom has serious criticisms to make of the policy, that position is not universally shared by member states. There is no consensus at the moment within the Council or the Community for substantial change.
Column 380Mr. Tyler: Can the Minister estimate the proportion of the £28 billion that actually reaches farm incomes in the United Kingdom?
Mr. Hogg: The figures are available; I would not want to give the hon. Gentleman a specific figure off the cuff, but I would be happy to do so in writing. One particular figure sticks in my mind, however. A study by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development in 1993 measured the total transfers by the taxpayer and the consumer in the context of agriculture, and found that only 50 per cent. of them went to farmers. If the hon. Gentleman wants me to be more precise, I would prefer to write to him, to preclude the possibility of error.
Mr. Nicholls: Does my right hon. and learned Friend detect an certain irony in the fact that the most federalist policy in the Community is now being attacked by the most federalist parties among the Opposition? Does he agree that the real problem with fraud is that so many of our European partners seem to think it is perfectly all right to pass legislation without obeying it, whereas our party resists such legislation but then obeys it to the hilt? Surely that is the problem that is endemic in the whole European structure; ultimately, it is the problem with which we will have to grapple.
"Under my leadership, I will never allow this country to be isolated or left behind in Europe."
As I have already said in reply to the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Central (Mr. Darling), there is no general agreement in the European Union on the need for change. We will bring about change only by pressing for it vigorously all the while. It is quite plain from what the Leader of the Opposition has said that he will be in no position to do that.
Dr. Strang: Does the Minister recall that, while his predecessors were telling the House that the MacSharry CAP reforms gave Britain all it wanted, the Labour party not only argued that they were inadequate but called for an end to state intervention buying of agricultural produce and an end to export subsidies on agricultural commodities? Will the Minister confirm that that is now the position of the British Government?
Mr. Hogg: The hon. Gentleman flatters himself. I have the 1992 Labour manifesto in front of me. It contained three paragraphs on the desirability of a ministry for women, and two sentences on the common agricultural policy--neither pointing in the direction to which the hon. Gentleman has just pointed.
Mr. Baldry: Following investigations by MAFF and the Intervention Board for Agricultural Produce, three producers have been successfully prosecuted for offences associated with illegal trading in milk. Cases against seven other producers are before the courts and further
Column 381investigations are in progress. These cases demonstrate the Government's determination to stamp out black market trading in milk.
Mrs. Winterton: Cheshire farmers will be pleased that the matter of black market milk is being dealt with as it is, but is not the real problem the fact that the United Kingdom was dealt a bad hand in 1984 when quota allocations were made by the European Community and the fact that we are restricted to producing only about 85 per cent. of our liquid milk requirement? Is not only one of the ways forward the matter of being able to transfer quota across national boundaries? Will my hon. Friend assure the House that he and the Government will put the matter before the European Commission to ensure that Cheshire farmers and other milk producers in Britain are not further disadvantaged in the future?
Mr. Baldry: I hope that my hon. Friend will take back to Cheshire farmers the clear message that black market traders in milk will not get away with it. They will be detected, prosecuted and punished. Not only do they face the risk of penalty imposed by the courts, but the intervention board will impose a super-levy of 30p a litre on all undeclared deliveries of milk. I suspect that that will greatly exceed any fine imposed by the courts. The court fine and the super-levy will represent substantial penalties on any farmer tempted to indulge in trading in black market milk.
Britain has never been self-sufficient in milk. When the quota was set in 1981, it in large part reflected the fact that the Labour Government in the mid-1970s did not adjust the green pound in a way that encouraged dairy farmers. I hope that my hon. Friend will remind her dairy farmers of that fact. Of course, we continue to press in Brussels for intra-Community trade in milk quotas as a means of allowing quota to go to those parts of the Community--
Mr. Connarty: Is not one of the problems the fact that 70 per cent. of milk quotas in the United Kingdom both for sale and for lease are held by non-producers? The idea of quotas to help the producers and farmers has become so distorted now that quotas are just a commodity to be traded for cash. They are not about farm incomes and preserving the farms of this country.
Mr. Baldry: That does not offer any excuse for trade in black market milk. We have always felt that we would wish to get rid of milk quotas altogether, but, so long as internal support prices in the Community encourage the production of dairy products for which there is no market, it will be difficult to do away with quotas altogether.
Mr. Boswell: The Ministry has produced guidance for farmers on recycling of waste through its codes of good agricultural practice. Farmers can also take part in an industry-led recovery scheme for farm plastics.
Column 382Mr. Sheerman: Surely the Minister is being complacent. There is a real problem with plastic packaging waste which is a by-product of modern farming methods. When will the Minister talk to colleagues in the Department of the Environment about measures to dissuade farmers from using so much plastic waste or to persuade them to recycle it? Or is the Minister going to wait until the whole country is knee-deep in plastic waste?
Mr. Boswell: I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman is not aware of the farm films recovery service, which has a hotline and has been established to develop a service for farmers. I share the hon. Gentleman's enthusiasm for recycling. The opportunities are already available. I assure him that we already talk regularly, frequently and positively with our colleagues in the Department of the Environment and the Department of Trade and Industry, which take the lead in waste disposal matters.
Mr. Bellingham: Will the Minister of State and the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food introduce a comprehensive programme of recycling to recycle the garbage and claptrap spoken by Opposition Members? If they do that, every farmer will vote Conservative.
Mr. Boswell: It is interesting that, during the development of the common agricultural policy, most of the traditional mountains have been removed, including butter, milk and cereals, but the mountain of unrecycled Labour waste and abandoned policies which are then reintroduced in a different form continues to no purpose.
Mr. Foulkes: Is the Minister aware that, when I met the Ayrshire branch of the Scottish National Farmers Union, along with Sandra Osborne, the prospective Labour candidate and the next Member of Parliament for Ayr, the union said that it was keen to see farmers recycled? It is important to introduce an early retirement scheme, because the average age of farmers in Ayrshire is over 55. Why are early retirement schemes in place in other parts of the Community but not in the United Kingdom?
Mr. Boswell: In formulating our agricultural policies and selecting the European opportunities available to us, we clearly have to set our own priorities. Clearly, the early retirement of some of the more unwelcome Labour policies such as the minimum wage might be beneficial.
The Parliamentary Secretary, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mrs. Angela Browning): In addition to the very substantial progress already made by my Department in food law deregulation, we shall be proposing simplification of a large number of composition, labelling and additives regulations from 1 January 1996. In looking for further ways to simplify the law and reduce burdens on business, we shall also be making every effort to persuade our European Community partners of the benefits of deregulation.
Column 383Mr. Jenkin: Does my hon. Friend agree that the worst sort of regulation is that which regulates against imagined evils and dangers that hardly exist? I welcome the Government's moves on the deregulation of cheese. Will the Government start reviews of poultrymeat hygiene and meat hygiene to balance the costs of regulation with the injuries, illnesses or deaths from poison? We need a proper balance within the regulation of those industries.
Mrs. Browning: The food law deregulation plan acknowledges that essential standards of food safety and consumer protection must be maintained--but I take my hon. Friend's point about getting the balance right, which we are certainly seeking to do.
I am sure that the House will welcome the announcement by my right hon. and learned Friend the Minister on Tuesday that we have consulted the industry on the deregulation of compositional standards in British territorial cheeses and they are all safe in our hands.
Mr. Nicholson: The Minister is a doughty fighter and, in the spirit of the supplementary question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Colchester, North (Mr. Jenkin), I hope that she will convey some of her combativeness to her officials. Is she aware that, unless the numerous allegations made by Mr. Christopher Booker are either disproved or resolved --there is much more resolving to be done--considerable damage will be done to popular regard both for the European Community and for Her Majesty's Government?
Mrs. Browning: We scrutinise carefully all reports in the press, wherever they come from, to see whether they are accurate and need further investigation or are simply examples of opportunistic journalism. It is a matter of great disappointment to me that, when I write in my capacity as a Minister to the editors of national newspapers seeking to correct scientific facts, those editors frequently fail to publish my letters.
Mr. William O'Brien: When considering further deregulation in the agricultural industry, will the Minister take action to safeguard the doorstep delivery of milk which many people wish to see safeguarded?
Mrs. Browning: Those of us who benefit from doorstep deliveries welcome and value that service. But it is not for Ministers to frogmarch milkmen up garden paths to deliver milk unless an order is placed.
Mr. Tony Banks: The Minister is surely wrong. There is no balance in the food industry. Does the Minister accept that, with regard to safety, we need more regulation, not deregulation? For example, over the years, Ministers from her Department have said from the Dispatch Box that bovine spongiform encephalopathy cannot enter the food chain; mad cow disease is not communicable to human beings. It clearly is. That calls for more regulation of the meat industry, not deregulation.
Mrs. Browning: We take seriously BSE and all the scientific findings and investigations in that regard, and science does not support what the hon. Gentleman has just said. He is right to say that there is a need for balance, but the House must judge which is the party of over-regulation and which is the party of deregulation, based on what he has said this afternoon.
Mr. Douglas Hogg: I regularly meet representatives of the agriculture industry, including the president of the National Farmers Union, to discuss issues of importance to them. I have also had the pleasure of meeting in the last couple of weeks representatives of the Dairy Industry Federation and Milk Marque. Earlier this week, I attended the Dairy Industry Federation's annual lunch.
Sir David Knox: Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that the concern of the Cheshire dairy farmers about black market trading in milk, referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Congleton (Mrs. Winterton), is shared by the overwhelming majority of Staffordshire dairy farmers? Only a few cases have reached the courts so far. Does my right hon. and learned Friend expect many more cases to reach the courts, and has he discussed that with the president of the NFU?
Mr. Hogg: That is an important issue, on which my hon. Friend the Minister of State has just spoken. There have been three prosecutions in the recent past, and the impact of the super-levy should act as a substantial deterrent. I very much hope that there will be further prosecutions if the evidence supports them. It is a serious matter against which we must strike.
Mr. Stevenson: In his discussions with the NFU on the dairy sector, did the Minister discuss the fact that the cost of the dairy sector and the CAP is due to increase substantially in the next few years? Did he further discuss the fact that the Paymaster General attended a meeting in Brussels in July and accepted a 10.9 per cent. increase in common agricultural policy expenditure? Does that not mean that the Government's assurance that they intend to control the cost of the bloated CAP regime is not worth the paper on which it is written?
Mr. Hogg: That is simply not right and, coming from the Labour party, it is not attractive, because between 1974 and 1979, when Labour had some responsibility for CAP expenditure, it quadrupled. The 1992 reforms are an important step in constraining expenditure. We have set guidelines within which CAP expenditure should stay, but we must go on pressing for reform, and we will do that. The dairy farmers that I have met recently have expressed themselves satisfied with the return from their sector.
Mr. Nigel Evans: Does my right hon. and learned Friend accept that we are the largest consumers of liquid milk in the European Union and that Lancashire housewives resent the fact that, while Lancashire farmers can produce the milk that they would wish to drink, because of the quota system, we have to import that milk?
Mr. Hogg: My hon. Friend is right. We are not self-sufficient in milk. The principal reason for that, as my hon. Friend the Minister of State said in answer to a previous question, is that the agri-monetary policy pursued by the Labour party in the 1970s prevented the development of the British dairy industry to the extent that would otherwise have been the case. Hence, the 1981 base year was less favourable than otherwise one would wish. As to the future, in the long term we should like to
Column 385secure market circumstances leading to a phasing out of quotas and, in the interim, we should like to secure, although it will be a difficult negotiation, inter-European Union tradeability in milk quotas.
Dr. Strang: May I remind the Minister that, under the common agricultural policy, we spend more than £3,000 million a year on support for the dairy industry? Although much of that money is spent wastefully, just 3 per cent. is spent on subsidies for school milk. Would it not be a disgrace if, as part of the public expenditure review, the Government cut that spending?
Mr. Nicholas Winterton: May I seek a firm commitment from my right hon. and learned Friend? Does he agree that the United Kingdom has some of the finest grassland in the European Community, and that that grassland is ideal for dairy farming and milk production? Will he give an assurance that it is Government policy to increase the milk quota for United Kingdom dairy farmers for as long as quotas exist in the European Community--bearing in mind that we are not
self-sufficient in milk?
I had the pleasure of visiting Cheshire last Friday, and of meeting many dairy farmers there. I entirely agree with what my hon. Friend has said about the productivity and skills of dairy workers in his county. As for quotas, if it were possible, we would indeed wish to secure a larger quota, but when I ask myself whether we are likely to achieve it, the answer is "Probably not"--hence the importance that we attach to persuading the European Union to allow the leasing of quotas across EU national frontiers.
11. Mr. Martyn Jones: To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what proposals he has to ensure that the United Kingdom obtains its share of acreage agreed for industrial crops within the framework of the Blair House agreement. 
Mr. Jones: Have we not missed the boat, because France and Germany have already increased their production up to the limits set in the Blair House agreement? Is that not a disgusting state of affairs for the European Community?