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Sea Levels (South-east)

4. Mr. Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock): Pursuant to his answer of 4 June 1998, Official Report, column 341, on sea levels in the Thames estuary and River Medway, if he will carry out surveys relating solely to projected sea level rises. [47159]

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The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. Elliot Morley): It is not the Ministry's responsibility to undertake such surveys. The Environment Agency is responsible for undertaking surveys and studies as part of its flood defence functions; in doing so, it takes into account Ministry guidance on sea level rise.

Mr. Mackinlay: Like many others, I am concerned that this is a question of falling between stools. The Government need to take the initiative and examine the impact on coastal regions of rising sea levels, because the evidence suggests that there will be significant flood tides on the Thames and Medway over the next quarter of a century, which will necessitate increasing use of the Thames barrier and involve a danger of its being overtopped. The problem should be addressed by the Government on behalf of all hon. Members who represent coastal regions.

Mr. Morley: I can reassure my hon. Friend that the projected rises in sea level are taken into account in Environment Agency surveys and in our flood defence calculations. It is not considered that the flood defences in my hon. Friend's constituency are at risk. I know that there has been some press speculation that he has offended the Prime Minister in some way, but I assure him that there is no danger that his constituency will be obliterated as a result.

Common Agricultural Policy

5. Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood): What assessment he has made of the impact of the German Government's proposed reduction of its national contribution to the EU budget upon the common agricultural policy. [47160]

The Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Dr. John Cunningham): One key reason why the German contribution is so high is the cost of the common agricultural policy. The best way of keeping member states' contributions to affordable levels is to ensure firm control of the Union's spending. That necessitates policy reform. We hope that Germany will join us in pressing for fundamental reform of the CAP, which will bring savings in the longer term.

Mr. Wilkinson: Is it not the case that neither German electioneering nor the right hon. Gentleman's empty rhetoric have done anything to modify the burgeoning growth of the common agricultural policy? How can he countenance £1 billion ecu in subsidy for tobacco growing? How can he approve of £857 million ecu for wine production up to 2003? Is not the CAP a protection racket for booze and fags?

Dr. Cunningham: I share some of the hon. Gentleman's concerns about the cost of the CAP but I do not share his attitude towards persuading our colleagues in Europe to change it. I also share his view about the tobacco regime; Britain is one of the minority of five member states that do not grow tobacco. Ten members do grow tobacco, and that is why there is a tobacco regime.

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We can change the situation only by sensible and reasonable negotiation, and not by using the kind of language employed by the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow): Once the German elections have passed, are there any plans for serious discussion of what will happen when new member states begin to make demands on the CAP pool?

Dr. Cunningham: My hon. Friend raises the important need to reform CAP as part of the process of enlargement. It is untenable to suppose that the policy as presently constituted and financed could be acceptable when there is a significant increase in the member states of the European Union.

Mr. Ian Bruce (South Dorset): The Minister must know that he has allowed the presidency of the EU to go by without his placing those important matters on the agenda. Is that why he has not bothered to go to a single agricultural show during the United Kingdom presidency? There are rumours that when he does turn up for one, it will have to be specially policed so that farmers can be kept away from him.

Dr. Cunningham: We can conclude from that question that the hon. Gentleman slept through the UK presidency. In reality, the Agriculture Council unanimously approved conclusions that were adopted at the Cardiff summit. Work on those conclusions will be continued by the Austrian presidency. The hon. Gentleman could not be more wrong.

Genetically Modified Organisms

6. Mr. David Drew (Stroud): If the Government will organise an independent investigation into genetically modified organisms, with particular regard to (a) labelling and (b) segregation. [47161]

The Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. Jeff Rooker): We have no current plans to do as my hon. Friend asks, but the Government will hold public consultation on biotechnology in the near future in order to inform future policy.

Mr. Drew: I thank my hon. Friend for that answer. Responsibility for GMOs is shared jointly with the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions. Will the Minister acknowledge the unprecedented level of interest in GMOs, ranging from the Prince of Wales to The Express? Will he reconsider his earlier reply, and consider an investigation into labelling and segregation of GMOs to ensure consumer confidence and choice?

Mr. Rooker: The widespread interest in how our food is produced, marketed and labelled should be welcomed by everyone. We ask, however, that people consider the science. I could nitpick about The Express article on Monday, which contained inaccuracies. From September, compulsory labelling of genetically modified soya and maize will begin. Several other products are already voluntarily labelled to show that they are genetically modified. We cannot force segregation of crops

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internationally as we would have a problem with the World Trade Organisation, but the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food produced a list of 48 suppliers of non-genetically modified soya and maize a few weeks ago. Others have since been added to the list, which now names 57 suppliers. The more information available, the better for all concerned.

Mr. Anthony Steen (Totnes): Can the Minister explain why acres of genetically modified soya have been planted just 100 yards from the largest organic farm in the west country without any consultation with the organic farmer about the effect on his livelihood? How can 841 acres of genetically modified trials, approved by MAFF, be allowed only 100 yards from an organic farm?

Mr. Rooker: It is not MAFF that approves that. [Interruption.] No, it is not. It is right that more than one Government Department is involved. In terms of crops, the Department of the Environment controls the releases to the environment through its advisory committee. It is important that it is not MAFF, the food-sponsoring Ministry, which plays that role. If I have the location of the farm mentioned by the hon. Gentleman correctly in mind, there are few acres of genetically modified crops within the total of the experimental acres and the genetically modified crops are 2 km away from the organic farm.

Dr. Ian Gibson (Norwich, North): Does my hon. Friend agree that scientists are often regarded as arrogant, distant and uncaring, and that they, too, must win the argument with the consumer?

Mr. Rooker: I endorse what my hon. Friend said. Many scientists wish to be as open as possible. Obviously, sometimes confidentiality and peer group discussions present difficulties. Nevertheless, it is in the interests of science that it is as open as possible and it is in the interests of us all that we keep scientists on tap, not on top.

Agrimonetary Compensation Payments

7. Mr. Christopher Gill (Ludlow): If he will reconsider his decision not to make agrimonetary compensation payments. [47162]

The Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Dr. John Cunningham): I announced on 3 February our decision to pay £85 million in agrimonetary compensation to the UK beef and sheepmeat sectors. This is the first occasion on which a UK Government have paid such aid.

Mr. Gill: Is not the real reason why the Government refuse to pay the full amount of agrimonetary compensation because they are trying to browbeat individual farmers into abandoning their opposition to the single currency? [Laughter.] I am talking about the views, not of the National Farmers Union which the Minister has already articulated, but of individual farmers. In many respects, the views of the NFU are as different from the views of individual farmers, and as out of touch with them, as the views of the Government are out of sympathy with public opinion.

Dr. Cunningham: Even for the fevered anti-European imagination of the hon. Gentleman that one is a tall story.

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As I have already told the House, the reality is that this is the first Administration ever to pay agrimonetary compensation to farmers and--

Mr. Gill: A tiny amount.

Dr. Cunningham: We have paid 95 per cent. of the total available to sheep farmers and 75 per cent. of the total available to beef farmers.


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