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Mr. Hogg: That intervention shows how unfit the Labour party is for government. The Leader of the Opposition has said several times that the Labour party would not wish to stand alone in Europe.

Let us consider for a moment the practicalities of reforming the common agricultural policy. We must arrive at some agreement within the Council, which has

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15 voting members. We are arguing for change, but, as I have said, the majority is against us at present. If the hon. Member were to assert to the Council that his could never be the minority view, the majority would always be against us. That sort of thinking highlights why the Labour party is unfit for office.

Mr. Christopher Gill (Ludlow): Do not my right hon. and learned Friend's comments prove that any vote that is taken in the House tomorrow will be entirely symbolic? Whether the Government win or lose the vote, the common agricultural policy will continue in its present form until Ministers reform it.

Mr. Hogg: My point is that our objectives are realistic. We are making substantial progress, but it is slow--I do not deny that. For example, agreements were struck in 1992. My right hon. Friend the present Secretary of State for the Environment played an important part in securing a package of measures that advanced reform while taking account of British farmers' interests.

As I said, the Commission's White Paper published at the end of last year is an important step forward, in that it asserts the principle that the status quo in common agricultural policy terms is not sustainable. We need to build on that and to work with the grain of that argument. I hope that my hon. Friend will help to make that possible.

Mr. Denis MacShane (Rotherham): Does the Minister agree that progress in the direction that he has set forth would be better if it were not for the fact that half his party want us out of Europe?

Mr. Hogg: That is manifestly not true, but, if the hon. Gentleman were honest with himself, he would recognise that a large number of Labour Members regard his political views as positively eccentric. I am bound to say that I rather agree with them.

Mr. Tony Marlow (Northampton, North): As my name and those of several of my colleagues have been taken in vain by the hon. Member for Rotherham (Mr. MacShane), may I make it clear that I do not know any Conservative Member who wants to come out of Europe; perhaps there are one or two. Many Conservative Members believe that we should have major renegotiations; that, I believe, is the Government's position as well. We are bored rigid with being misrepresented by people such as the hon. Member for Rotherham.

Mr. Hogg: I am glad that I gave my hon. Friend the opportunity to clarify his position so precisely.

Mr. Rhodri Morgan (Cardiff, West): Give him a job.

Mr. Hogg: That is not in my discretion.

I will turn from the general thoughts that I have tried to sketch out on the CAP to this year's price proposals, which were examined this morning in European Standing Committee A. In essence, the price proposals maintain the status quo. They disappoint, because we have, and yet have missed, an opportunity for change. With cereal prices at their present high levels, now would have been the time to start cutting the arable area payments, which massively over-compensate for the price reductions agreed in 1992.

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Moreover, the milk sector is another area in which we could have made changes. I pressed for a 1 per cent. increase in milk quotas, together with a 5 per cent. cut in support prices. I am sorry that those suggestions were not picked up. Some proposals, however, should most certainly be welcomed. In particular, there is the proposal for a single rate for rotational and non-rotational set-aside. That is a much-needed and wholly justified simplification of the rules.

The Council will need to take an early decision on next year's set-aside rate. I hope that that can be done at the July Council. As to the rate itself, with current high market prices, there are powerful arguments for a rate substantially below 10 per cent.

I turn to the beef sector. The "price proposals" will provide additional measures to support the beef sector in and through the present crisis. Some measures have already been taken, but the Council has, on two occasions, emphasised the need for additional short-term income support for beef producers. We and other member states look to the Commission to deliver further proposals at next week's Council meeting.

Mr. Edward Leigh (Gainsborough and Horncastle): May I direct my right hon. and learned Friend to a point of interest for his constituents and for mine in Lincolnshire? At present, not a single beast is going into market from Lincolnshire because, east of the line from Northampton to York, no abattoirs are open for those beasts. There is chaos. We have been lobbied today by more than 100 or 200 farmers. They cannot get beasts into market. There are not enough abattoirs. What is my right hon. and learned Friend going to do about it?

Mr. Hogg: There is a serious problem with matching abattoirs to renderers. Rendering capacity in this country is finite, and we are having difficulties in processing or slaughtering more than 25,000 cattle a week throughout the United Kingdom. To meet that problem, we are proposing to take on cold storage facilities. In the next six weeks or so, I hope that we shall take on additional storage capacity for about 20,000 tonnes. At that point, it will be possible to bring more abattoirs on stream, and there will therefore be a bigger throughput than we can achieve at the moment.

Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire): May I point out to my right hon. and learned Friend that not only Lincolnshire farmers have been to the House today? Staffordshire farmers have been here as well, and they will not be comforted by the six-week period. I stress to my right hon. and learned Friend that it is absolutely essential that the six weeks becomes two as a maximum.

Mr. Hogg: My hon. Friend the Minister of State has reminded me that more abattoirs will come on stream on Monday week.

I invite my hon. Friends to stand back for a moment. We face a real problem because there is a constraint--the rendering capacity. One cannot wholly get round that problem by putting carcases into cold storage, because, in any event, between 30 and 40 per cent. of the carcases have to be rendered. That said, as we are able to bring more cold storage into play, we shall be able to increase substantially the weekly slaughter rate. I recognise the considerable concern expressed by hon. Members of all parties on that point.

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Mr. Patrick Nicholls (Teignbridge): Today, Devonshire farmers have been saying to Members of Parliament who represent Devon constituencies that cold storage is the key. They will expect to hear not six weeks but a great deal less than that. The relationship between the renderers and abattoirs is understood, but will my right hon. and learned Friend be able to do anything about the supermarkets that have been telling abattoirs, "If you take inedible food as well edible food, we will not take any supplies from you at all." That is specifically making it virtually impossible for the renderers to do their job.

Mr. Hogg: The points that my hon. Friend has made are important. We shall start the process of bringing cold storage on stream next Tuesday. I thought that it would be more helpful if I expressed the figure collectively, so that hon. Members got a feel for the number. That is why I said 20,000 tonnes at the end of six weeks. I hoped that it would be a helpful indication of the volume.

The point about abattoirs and supermarkets is serious. My hon. Friend the Minister of State has talked to the industry many, many times--indeed, on a daily basis--and at the moment, nobody has dropped out of the abattoir scheme for the reasons that my hon. Friend the Member for Teignbridge (Mr. Nicholls) has just given about the supermarkets.

Several hon. Members rose--

Mr. Hogg: I shall give way to my hon. Friend the Member for West Gloucestershire (Mr. Marland), then the hon. Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler), and then I must make a little progress.

Mr. Paul Marland (West Gloucestershire): As has already been said, a large delegation of farmers visited the House of Commons today, and several of my hon. Friends and I were at a well-attended meeting upstairs with them to discuss the situation. They brought up the considerable concern about the unexpectedly large drop in the price of clean beef. I understand that that is in no small measure due to imports from third countries. Will my right hon. and learned Friend undertake to consider the possibility of stopping imports from countries such as Botswana, which were allowed into this country only as a short-term measure to plug the gap created as a result of the scare?

Mr. Hogg: I should like to make two points. First, to return to a point that I made a few moments ago about income support for beef producers, I think that the Commission is likely to come forward at next week's meeting of the Council with proposals for additional income support that will address some of the points that concern my hon. Friend and his constituents.

Secondly, however, there is a broader point, which relates to third countries. Some weeks ago, we relaxed the prohibition on the importation into the United Kingdom of beef older than 30 months from some third countries in which there was no risk of BSE. We did that to meet the legitimate concern of UK food processors, who made it plain to me and to others that they would face grave economic difficulties if they were not able to obtain supplies of that type of meat from third world countries. That is why we did it, and I am not minded to go back on that decision.

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