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The Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Ms Joyce Quin): The European Union has made a commitment to taking forward the issue of farm animal welfare in the World Trade Organisation negotiations. The UK has been a strong supporter of that commitment, which was reinforced by the Prime Minister in his strategy for agriculture, published on 30 March. We will certainly pursue the issue in the negotiations on agriculture that have started.
Mr. White: I thank my right hon. Friend for that response. In my constituency, many farmers are quite happy with the current standards of animal welfare. However, they are concerned about imports of animals from places where standards are lower. Will she give an assurance that she will ensure that farmers in my constituency do not lose out under any liberalisation as a result of the WTO negotiations?
Ms Quin: I recognise the concerns expressed by my hon. Friend. In the Ministry, we have held several meetings with interested parties throughout the farming industry about how best to pursue the important subject of animal welfare in world trade negotiations. I am glad that the EU is addressing the issue more seriously than it
Ms Ryan: May I lend my support to that of Compassion in World Farming for the idea of making payments for high animal welfare standards eligible for green box treatment in the World Trade Organisation? That is the best way to move ahead in liberalising trade in agricultural products while preserving high animal welfare standards in the United Kingdom. Will my right hon. Friend raise that matter during the World Trade Organisation negotiations?
Ms Quin: The suggestion that we should get payments authorised within the so-called green box is an interesting idea that my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture has put forward. It was also explored with me when I recently gave evidence to the Select Committee on Agriculture. Obviously, we want recognition of animal welfare standards. However, we want them recognised in a way that will fit in with the WTO, that is not subject to cuts in support, as under the blue box arrangement, and that will allow us to move forward in a way that does not distort trade. The negotiations will be difficult and we shall need to build up alliances for the position that we are taking.
Mr. David Curry (Skipton and Ripon): I welcome the Minister's extremely cautious response, given that the action plan for farming covered that commitment in a single brief sentence. Does she accept that the achievement of the rules-based system to discipline world trade is one of the great achievements of the post-war world? One of the reasons why it has been so successful is that it has dealt with trade, while people have found other forums to deal with issues such as the environment and labour conditions. Does she recognise that if we are to continue to succeed in promoting world trade, we must not hang too many other issues on the trade issue, because they can be dealt with in other forums. Will she therefore persist with her extreme caution and realise that what is at stake is very important?
Ms Quin: I understand some of the issues that the right hon. Gentleman raises, but I hope that he will not confuse caution with a lack of determination to pursue the issue. As I mentioned, this is part of the European Union mandate. However, we have a responsibility to explain to other countries why we feel the issue is important, and that we are not pursuing it in a protectionist way. I accept his comments about world trade, but I am encouraged that there now appears to be a greater understanding of the issue. My hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary recently attended an animal welfare congress that discussed world trade, and it welcomed the view that this issue should be seen as a dimension of world trade.
Mr. Christopher Gill (Ludlow): I am sure that the House recognises that some hon. Members hold strong views on animal welfare, and set greater store by that than by the viability of British agriculture. Will the Minister assure us that that is not her priority, and that the
Ms Quin: May I remind the hon. Gentleman that our animal welfare measures have been introduced with the support of the whole House? Members on both sides have spoken up strongly in favour of animal welfare. However, it is important to pursue these issues, particularly within the European market. With laying hens, for example, it is much better to take action at a European level than to introduce unilateral measures that simply damage competitiveness and encourage imports from places where standards are not so high.
Mr. Colin Breed (South-East Cornwall): Taking that point forward, the Minister will know that the competition faced by British pig producers is from lower-grade competitors from within Europe rather than outside it. What action is she taking, and what discussions is she having with our European partners so that they will follow our good example in animal welfare and improve their standards? We would not then face unfair competition much longer.
Ms Quin: As the hon. Gentleman knows, we have actively pursued that aim in Europe. Indeed, there are some moves to improve welfare standards in European pig production. We have also supported marketing and promotional efforts which, importantly, highlight the high standards that we have introduced in this country. Of course, we are glad that the price for pigmeat has increased in recent weeks.
The Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. Nick Brown): The Government have undertaken a range of measures to help farmers through what I freely acknowledge are difficult times. Farm incomes have been depressed for the last three years. On the specific question of the euro's fall in value, the principal instrument that the Government can use is agrimonetary compensation. Up to the end of 2001, we will have paid some £595 million in agrimonetary compensation, which is broken down as follows: £22 million will have gone to dairy producers, £235.4 million to beef producers, £82.4 million to sheep producers, and £254.9 million to arable producers. Small amounts are also paid to farmers under agri-environmental schemes.
Mr. Bruce: I am grateful for that full answer, which contrasts with many answers that we currently receive from the Dispatch Box. Will he confirm that the saving to Her Majesty's Government in agrimonetary compensation is £110 million, despite all the money that has gone into it? More importantly, will he take the Chancellor by the hand--if one can do that--and get him to go to the European central bankers and protest about the fact that our European partners are deliberately devaluing the euro to give themselves a competitive
Mr. Brown: The hon. Gentleman is right to point out that macro-economic policy has an impact on agriculture, as Ministers have previously acknowledged in the House. We can only make so much use of the instrument of agrimonetary compensation. The Government are making proportionate use of it, but it is wrong to encourage British agriculture to look to supply side measures as a solution to their problems. The solution must be closer market orientation.
Charlotte Atkins (Staffordshire, Moorlands): My local farmers have been helped by the countryside stewardship scheme. However, have the Government not been hampered in their efforts by the previous Government's neglect of the rural environment, which has led to a low allocation of EU funds for environmental development?
Mr. Brown: Although I secured a 30 per cent. increase in the funds made available to this country from central European funds, I was handicapped by the low starting point in the negotiating base that I inherited from the previous Government, which means that we still do not get what I believe is our fair share of central European funds for these measures. I set great store by the second pillar of the common agricultural policy, and believe that we shall make more, not less, use of it in future.
Mr. William Thompson (West Tyrone): When the traditional arrangements run out, will agricultural compensation cease completely? If the differential between the euro and the pound continues, will the Minister seek to make new arrangements?
Mr. Brown: I was in Northern Ireland yesterday, and met, I believe, some of the hon. Gentleman's constituents, and had a good exchange with them on a range of issues. The hon. Gentleman is right to raise the future of the agrimonetary compensation scheme, as other member states of the European Union will not have such a close interest in it in future, as they move to the single currency. No final decision has yet been made about the future of the agrimonetary regime once the two years that it still has to run have elapsed.
The hon. Gentleman is right to raise the matter now. The long-term future of agriculture lies not in supply side measures from the EU or the UK Government, but in a liberalised world market, in which the industry can earn its living in the marketplace.