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Common Agricultural Policy

7. Mr. David Drew (Stroud): If she will make a statement on progress towards the reform of the CAP. [63008]

The Minister for Rural Affairs (Alun Michael): We expect the European Commission to publish its proposals for reform of the CAP on 10 July, and expect a preliminary discussion at the Agriculture Council on 15 and 16 July.

Mr. Drew: I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. Everyone now supports reform of the CAP, which is failing taxpayers and consumers. It is an important reason why we are delaying the entry of the new entrants to the EU. The environment is not doing well, while the CAP does not seem even to be supporting farmers' incomes. If we cannot have radical reform, is there not a case for abolishing the CAP, certainly as it is at the moment.

Alun Michael: My hon. Friend conditions his question by saying, "certainly as it is at the moment," but the point is that we want radical reform of the CAP. We are urging the Commission to publish radical proposals, and we are pushing for—for example—a shift in support under pillar one from production subsidies to environmental and rural development measures. Such changes have proved their value through the England rural development programme. We have made it clear that that direction—which is supported by the Curry commission report, and by other countries that want reform—is the right one to take. Let us hope that all other European countries support us in that.

Mr. David Curry (Skipton and Ripon): As the right hon. Gentleman said, the Commission is publishing its proposals for the mid-term review on 10 July. At roughly the same time, the Government should know how much money they will have available in the fundamental spending review, and whether they can implement the Curry report's central environmental proposals. In the Government's view, should they implement the Curry report as soon as the money is available, or should they wait until the framework has been established as part of the negotiations for the mid-term review, so that the European framework—which appears to be quite similar to the Curry report—can be put in place and a coherence between the policies established?

Alun Michael: The Curry commission report provides a framework for reforming agriculture in this country, and we are looking to the Commission to introduce proposals on the direction of CAP reform. What would help is a significant increase in the UK's share of pillar two funding. As the right hon. Gentleman knows, such funding has historically been low—a fact for which the Conservative party is responsible. However, the most

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important thing is to examine the statement, and let us hope that it is as radical as this country and some of our reform partners want it to be.

Mr. Ian Cawsey (Brigg and Goole): My right hon. Friend may be aware that, this week, the report of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals on the future of farming was published. On CAP reform, it points out that Agenda 2000 kept in place too many subsidies that are detrimental to animal welfare, that pillar one payments should have animal welfare conditions attached, and that pillar two payments should reward producers who maintain higher animal welfare standards—many of whom are, of course, in the United Kingdom. Will my right hon. Friend support those proposals as part of the negotiations?

Alun Michael: My hon. Friend is aware of the Government's enthusiasm for improving animal welfare standards across Europe, and he is right to point to the importance of doing so. That is one way of achieving a level playing field, and the decoupling of direct livestock payments from production will assist in that regard, and in terms of addressing the environmental impact of farming.

Mr. Roger Williams (Brecon and Radnorshire): During last week's mass lobby on fair trade, much emphasis was placed on reform of the CAP to allow third-world farmers to get a fair price for their products in world markets. What discussions has the Minister had with the Department for International Development to ensure that such reform achieves fair prices for third-world farmers?

Alun Michael: We want to improve not only the working of the CAP, but of the world trade round. That was made clear in Doha, where my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State took a leading role in pushing for such change. The danger of building unfairness into the system is clear to us, and we want to see it improved.

Mr. Wayne David (Caerphilly): Will the Minister confirm that discussions on the mid-term review of CAP reform will, under the Danish presidency of the European Union, be conducted in parallel with discussions on EU enlargement?

Alun Michael: Both of those issues are being pursued in parallel, so the answer to my hon. Friend's question is yes.

Mr. David Lidington (Aylesbury): I encourage the Minister to use the mid-term CAP renegotiations to put forward positive British proposals on issues that are of benefit to our own agricultural sector. For example, as he knows, British consumers and farmers alike find it immensely frustrating that we are unwilling, or unable, to ban the import of meat and meat products from countries where foot and mouth and other such diseases are endemic. The Government's argument has always been that such a ban would not be permissible under European law. Will the Minister therefore make it an objective of British policy in the negotiations to make whatever changes are needed to those European trade laws so that,

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in future, we are able to ban the import of meat and meat products from all countries where foot and mouth disease is endemic?

Alun Michael: We certainly want to have a level standard for imports. However, we do not want to introduce controls that would be impractical or inoperable in terms of market movements. The hon. Gentleman is, however, right to suggest that we should do all we can to achieve a level playing field and consistent standards with our European partners. We will also do all we can to push for radical proposals to reform the CAP to ensure that our farmers are assisted. That is why we want to see an increase in the UK's share of pillar two funding and to see the other changes for which we have argued.


8. Mr. Michael Jack (Fylde): What plans she has to help improve the commercial performance of the UK horticultural industry. [63009]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Mr. Elliot Morley): The UK horticultural industry is rightly proud that it does not depend on EU subsidies and has a good record of innovation and customer focus. The Department funds a substantial programme of strategic research and development in the horticultural sector and there are various opportunities within the England rural development programme for assistance to horticultural enterprises. We have recently consulted on a new round of the agricultural development scheme. The Food Chain Centre, which has been established in response to the policy commission report on sustainable food and farming, is preparing a benchmarking study on fresh fruit and vegetables.

Mr. Jack: I am grateful for the Minister's positive view of the horticulture industry, especially as it is a fragrant day for the House with a visit by the National Farmers Union flower and plant committee. The committee's members and the rest of the horticulture industry would be interested to learn what the Department can do to help those parts of the industry that sometimes need the help of specialist chemicals that are available to our European competitors, but are not available here because of the costs imposed by the Pesticides Safety Directorate when approving the use of those treatments in the UK. Could he consider the issue again to see what may be done to ensure that our industry can compete on an equal basis?

Mr. Morley: I understand the right hon. Gentleman's point, which can be a serious problem in relation to specialist products for which the manufacturers think that the market in the UK is too small to go through the necessary procedures. The issue has been considered by the EU in relation to the permissions given for the use of various products, including pesticides and veterinary treatments, to try to minimise the bureaucracy and expense. I am informed that overall, however, most of the chemical treatments that our industry needs are generally available.

Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome): I recently visited a chrysanthemum grower in my constituency who

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seeks to invest, not to increase the quantity of production but to improve the seasonality of his crop to meet the demands of the supermarkets. He has applied for England rural development programme support and been told that he cannot have it because it would be classed as state aid under EU rules. Can that be right, and will the Minister look into it?

Mr. Morley: I shall be glad to look into the details if the hon. Gentleman will provide them. The success of such applications depends on the detail. The ornamental section is very successful in this country, especially in the south-west, and I know several schemes that have been grant aided, such as packing houses and support for distribution and marketing.

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