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Common Agricultural Policy

5. Mr. Wilkinson: To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what proposals he has made to the European Commission on the reform of the common agricultural policy to accommodate the agricultural interests of those countries which have applied to join the EU. [17549]

The Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. Douglas Hogg): I have regular and frequent contacts with the European Commission and other member states on reforming the common agricultural policy. We have consistently argued that early decisions leading to a more market-oriented CAP are essential to facilitate EU enlargement.

Mr. Wilkinson: My right hon. and learned Friend should represent urgently to Commissioner Fischler for the completion by July of the agricultural review of the common agricultural policy which the Commission is undertaking. It is essential that we move to a system of national support and away from European Union-wide support since the CAP is costing the average family in this country £26 per week in additional taxes and food costs. To do so would be compatible with the entry of the applicant countries to the EU. To maintain EU-wide support in the event of their entry would cost an inordinately large amount.

Mr. Hogg: That is an important point. I am not in favour of the repatriation of the common agricultural policy, but I agree that there is scope for much more subsidiarity than there is now. I also agree with the point underlining my hon. Friend's question, which is that the European Union really has to address the question of reform speedily and preferably before the negotiations on enlargement begin.

Mrs. Golding: What proposals is the Minister making to reduce the burden on the British people caused by the unfairness of the common agricultural policy? Does he realise that the reason why his Government have made so little progress is that they are as unpopular and distrusted abroad as they are at home?

Mr. Hogg: The hon. Lady misunderstands the position. Within the Agriculture Council there is no enthusiasm for reform of the CAP. In truth, I think only Sweden, the Danes, to some extent the Dutch, ourselves and the Commissioner are in favour of fundamental reform, otherwise there is substantial opposition. It is because of that substantial opposition that we are not making more rapid movement towards reform.

Mr. Rowe: Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that one of the reasons why the common agricultural

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policy is somewhat distrusted is that there is no faith in the inspections that are carried out nationally, and that as part of the reform of the CAP it would be a good idea for international teams of inspectors to go up farm paths and ensure that the rules are being observed as scrupulously in one country as in another?

Mr. Hogg: My hon. Friend makes an important point, in the sense that there is no doubt that the United Kingdom generally enforces European law, regulations and directives more robustly than many other countries. There is certainly scope for trying, through the Commission and its inspection agencies, to tighten the workings of the common agricultural policy. We, in the context of BSE, for example, have been pleased to welcome many inspection visits from the European Commission and member states.

Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy

6. Mr. Cousins: To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food when he now forecasts, on the basis of existing policies, the last new case of BSE in Britain to occur. [17550]

Mr. Douglas Hogg: In August, an independent team lead by Professor Roy Anderson confirmed that BSE was in sharp decline and would virtually die out in the United Kingdom around 2001 as a result of measures already in force. It is not, however, possible to predict precisely when the BSE epidemic will be over.

Mr. Cousins: Does the Minister accept that that prediction was made on the basis of applying to BSE in cows a statistical model derived from the spread of AIDS in humans, and that it must in any event be subject to an extremely wide margin of error? Would not he be wise to add those cautions every time that the prediction is mentioned, to avoid damaging yet further Britain's agricultural industry?

Mr. Hogg: The hon. Gentleman is right in the sense that all predictions are somewhat uncertain. He will find that in my various statements I have tended to use the phrase, "in 2001 or thereabouts", because it is perfectly true that there is likely to be a tail beyond 2001 and we do not know how thick that tail will be. The disease is declining by 40 per cent. year on year and we expect that in all substantial respects it will die out around 2001 or thereabouts, but of course I agree that there must be caveats and provisos.

Mr. Alexander: Will my right hon. and learned Friend comment on a statement that I received today from Mr. Douglas Gascoine of Newark livestock market, of which I hope that I just succeeded in giving him notice, to the effect that, while the European Union has banned our meat, Germany is exporting to us meat from cows more than 30 months old, with the cord attached and including the specified offal? Given the fact that our meat is banned on health grounds, what action can the Ministry take to ensure that those countries that ban our meat do not export to us the very agents that caused BSE in the first place?

Mr. Hogg: My hon. Friend makes an important point, and I am grateful to him for his courtesy in giving me

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prior notice of what he wanted to ask. He has identified a serious matter. I have frequently said in the House that British beef is the safest and best in Europe, and I believe that to be true; one of the reasons for that is that we have in place a range of measures--abattoir control measures, controls on feedstuffs and the over-30-months rule--that are not to be found universally in the European Union.

We want the European Union to accept, for example, the abattoir controls on specified offal that we have in place. That would meet my hon. Friend's point, and I regret that the Council did not accept it in December. I very much hope that the Commissioner will make such proposals again in a month or so; if so, we shall support them.

Dr. Strang: May I remind the Minister that measures to keep the BSE agent out of our cattle feed were put in place in 1988? Is he aware that the head of his Ministry's beef and sheep division stated that because of the lax controls it was not until August 1996 that we could be certain that contaminated feed was no longer reaching our cattle? Does he agree that as a result of the Government's failure to enforce the measures many more cattle will die of BSE, the dreadful epidemic will last longer and the taxpayer will have to pay a beef tax of £3.5 billion?

Mr. Hogg: Professor Anderson's report, of which the hon. Gentleman knows, identified 1994 as the date when, in all probability, contaminated feedstuffs were no longer available in substantial quantities to cattle. It is true that from August last year, we made it a criminal offence to possess meat and bone meal on farms. Looking back with hindsight, there are probably a number of things that we could have done between 1988 and 1995 that we did not do, but at all times we acted in accordance with the best advice and tried to make judgments that were both reasonable and proportionate on the basis of the information then available. I do not accept the criticism, but I accept the facts to which I referred.

Common Fisheries Policy

7. Dr. Godman: To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food when he last met the Fisheries Ministers from other member states of the European Union to discuss matters relating to the reform of the common fisheries policy. [17551]

Mr. Baldry: At the December Fisheries Council, we discussed a number of matters relating to the reform of the common fisheries policy.

Dr. Godman: The severe restriction of industrial fishing is a long-overdue reform. An outright ban is perhaps impossible. In any case, we can continue fishing grenadier and blue whiting. Does the Minister agree that pout and sprat fishing should be banned completely? When he goes to Bergen, will he argue for a restricted total allowable catch of sand eels in grounds such as the Wee Bankie and Buckie Man's bank?

Mr. Baldry: I have made my views on industrial fishing known in the House on many occasions. We have had many discussions with the fishing industry and I am pleased that the Scottish Fishermen's Federation and others recognise that we need to move beyond a

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precautionary quota for sand eels to an actual quota in areas such as Wee Bankie. Ministers will certainly propose that at the forthcoming Bergen conference. The evidence of the impact of industrial fishing is such that we need to ensure that it is not destroying the fish chain upon which so many fishermen, both north and south of the border, depend.

Mr. Ian Bruce: My hon. Friend knows that much of the pressure on the common fisheries policy results from people's worries about cheating on quotas. What have Ministers been able to do to secure enforcement of quotas by other countries? Has he anything to say about British fishermen cheating on quotas?

Mr. Baldry: It is unacceptable if other member states do not apply the rules as rigorously as we do. At our behest, the Commission has been very active in ensuring that we have a Community inspectorate of member states' fisheries that seeks to ensure that the rules are applied as rigorously by other member states as they are by us. We will continue to seek to ensure that the Commission enforces those regulations throughout the European Community; otherwise, a mockery is made of having a common fisheries policy.

Mr. Morley: On reform of the CFP, I want to return to quota hopping. The Minister said that it will be pursued vigorously at the intergovernmental conference and we support that approach. However, many quota hoppers have legally bought their licences from UK fishermen as part of the free market approach that the Government have supported. Will the Minister support attaching conditions to licences? That might make things more difficult for overseas buyers and make it more attractive to maintain licences in regional fisheries.

Mr. Baldry: The hon. Gentleman misses the point. Our difficulty is that the European Court of Justice has deemed that under the treaty and present law, we cannot do that. [Interruption.] No, we cannot do it. The European Court paid far too much attention to the idea of a single market and freedom of association, and failed to take sufficient account of national fishing quotas. That is why we must ensure that there are treaty changes. I welcome the cross-party support for securing that at the IGC. That is the only way that we can be confident of eliminating quota hoppers once and for all.

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