Examination of Witnesses (Questions 60
WEDNESDAY 14 NOVEMBER 2001
MP, AND MR
60. Revenue budgets.
(Margaret Beckett) Absolutely. You will appreciate
that is something the Government has tried to do in a whole variety
of ways to give a more long-term way of thinking, long-term horizon
and also to avoid some of the issues in the past where we did
have a lot of short-term decision-making which cost down the road.
61. Can I just pick up on an area that is connected
with this, as all things are connected, and that is DEFRA's role
in trying to spread the word of sustainable development beyond
Government, education in the specific and the broader sense. I
believe that DEFRA manages and funds an initiative Going for
Green which has developed and is developing an education programme
for schools and I think the Are you doing your bit? campaign
that has got a broad public audience. That is very good news.
I am not expecting you to know the detail of that but I think
the Committee might appreciate a note on what is happening and
what the programme is for development of that because that is
putting up a message about sustainable development to the general
(Margaret Beckett) Indeed.
62. And made specifically through schools and
I believe as well working with the EU partners on that programme.
It would be interesting to have a note on that. Perhaps connected
with it is the Department's involvement in what I think are called
wardening schemes. I genuinely do not know what the Department's
role is. I have heard there is a role in the Department within
wardening schemes with neighbourhood or street wardens. I think
the initiative either came to DTLR before, possibly with Home
Office involvement. Some of those schemes are now coming into
effect jointly funded with local councils, housing associations,
some of them exist already, there are many programmes. I understand
that Michael Meacher has argued that if those wardens are to have
a real effect on raising the quality of life, tackling environmental
issues, degradation, abandoned cars and all that sort of thing,
anti-social behaviour, those wardens need to have powers on the
ground and I believe that is something that has been resisted
by the Home Office and possibly others. Is that something you
can comment on, if indeed it is right that DEFRA is involved in
some way on those schemes? This is all part of how we can build
confidence in showing, demonstrating issues that really impinge
upon the public in areas where they live that the Government is
approaching these things in a meaningful way? Does your Department
have a role in that?
(Margaret Beckett) Yes, we are involved. It is a DTLR
leadI think I am right in sayingfor precisely the
reason that you give, it has heavy local authority involvement
and so on. It is also very much an issue of, for example, the
urban environment so the initiative recently on abandoned cars,
for example, and a range of other issues. I know Michael is passionately
interested in the issue of litter and the things which, as you
quite rightly say, do impinge on people's own specific and local
environment. Yes, we are engaged in discussion of those issues.
It remains under discussion as to how the thing is taken forward
but we are very much liaising with our DTLR and other colleagues
63. Is there going to be a point at which it
will be possible to say how these matters are developing and unravelling?
For example, the alleged discussion, not necessarily a dispute,
about the powers of wardens on the ground, which I understand
Michael Meacher has got very clear views on which I might happen
to share. You can pick these things up through rumour and never
hear any more about it again.
(Margaret Beckett) I am afraid I cannot answer that
but you may find some other way of pursuing it.
64. Secretary of State, you pronounced yourself
on the radical end of perhaps policy movement as such. Could we
just explore three areas where radical thought might be achieved.
First of all, the obvious one is radical reform of the CAP. Then
you immediately said "This may be subject to transition as
such" which of course immediately takes out the whole potential
radical change. What evidence have you got that there really is
genuine evidence of other European ministers signing up to radical
reform and saying it and then ensuring, through unanimity, that
most of the steam of that is taken out by transition and such?
Where is your belief that this time as opposed to the other half
a dozen times we are going to see radical reform?
(Margaret Beckett) First of all, I dispute, I am afraid,
the notion that you cannot have radical change by transitional
means. Indeed, if you want to be really radical you might be best
advised to do it in a transitional way because of the shock to
the system that it would otherwise provide. As for the evidence,
well I think all I can say to you is that first of all the European
Union negotiating mandate for Doha accepted that agricultural
subsidies would have to be reduced, phased out, whatever, and
it would appear that it is possible that if those talks succeed
that will be part of the agreement. Second, of course the EU has
committed itself to the removal of milk quotas. Now, I do not
dispute for a second that all of these things are a broad framework
of agreement and that when it comes to actually doing it, it is
a lot more difficult. Nevertheless those have been agreed as part
of the approach and of course there is a whole issue of enlargement
which is likelyto put it no higher and one probably could
put it higherto mean that a number of those who have been
net beneficiaries from the CAP in the past will become net contributors
in the future. I find it sharpens the mind considerably. I do
not wish, by any means, to imply to the Committee that success
can be taken for granted or any negotiations along these lines
would not be extremely difficult and very hard fought, not least
because there are many other Member States in which agriculture
remains a much higher proportion of their economy than is the
case in the United Kingdom. However, I just say that those are
signals that lead me to believe that radical change is not off
(Mr Bender) You referred in your question, Mr Breed,
to unanimity. Of course in the Common Agricultural Policy changes
are by Qualified Majority Voting.
65. Yes, very often some of the aspects are
delayed on unanimity. Do you believe that enlargement will drive
CAP reform or CAP reform will delay enlargement?
(Margaret Beckett) Enlargement certainly is a driver
for CAP reform. Whether, because of that, it will for some people
raise issues and questions about enlargement remains to be seen
but, again, let me remind you that the Union has committed itself
to a timetable and those discussions are continuing. It is my
understanding that quite a lot of the progress is being made with
the specific agreements that are required to sign off the different
areas of policy. Up to now, I am not aware of any evidence that
there is an attempt being made artificially to slow down the process.
66. The second area of radical, do you believe
that the current policy we have adopted on modulation is radical?
(Margaret Beckett) The current policy we have adopted
on modulation is a mixture of what we believe is the best use
we can make of the approach and what we believe is the most practical
pace at which we can move. If I thought, or if it became apparent,
that it would be possible to move faster on modulation, I would
be extremely happy to seek to do so. I think part of the difficulty
was in an exchange that I had earlier on with the Chairman. Unfortunately
the regime which presently permits modulation is somewhat inflexible
and bureaucratic so I think there is some disappointment. I seem
to recall talking to Ewen Cameron about this a while ago. We believe
that the nature of the existing regime and permission for modulation
is probably something of a handicap to getting as much opportunity
to use it as one might wish. Certainly, going back to other issues,
I think it does not help anybody to set artificial targets for,
say, a faster move towards modulation that we cannot then deliver.
67. When we are talking about business advice
and the availability and such matters like that, do you believe
that perhaps if you were a 55 year old farmer having gone through
the last five years or so on reduced income and then had all the
traumas of foot and mouth that realistically you are likely to
be the person who is going to sign up for whole new business skills
and perhaps even have any money to go into a new business to make
use of any marketing of that? Would not a radical approach be
to try and ensure that those farmers who really would wish to
leave the industry were assisted to do so and that those who want
to come into the industry are helped to do so and thus a retirement
scheme which enables those to leave, and linked to a first joiners
scheme, might help the radical achievement of this change in agriculture
that we are looking for?
(Margaret Beckett) First, of course I take the point
and I accept that these issues are difficult for people. That
is not in any way a matter of dispute. It is, of course, the case
that in whatever part of the country or whatever community in
which you live, there are literally millions of our fellow citizens,
of similar ages, who have had to look afresh at what they thought
would be the structure of their lives and come to terms with new
circumstances and situations. While I completely accept that some
of the things people say about acquiring business skills and so
on may be daunting to some, I also am aware that there are a lot
of people who, having overcome their initial reservations and
anxieties, have actually found they had much greater capacity
than they really wanted to know. I do not rule it out. Also, if
I may say so, with deep respect, Mr Breed, I am not quite sure
how old you are but I suspect you are rather younger than 55 because
otherwise you might not be so much feeling that people might write
themselves off at that time.
Mr Breed: Nearly 55. Perhaps I ought to start
learning some new skills.
68. Go into farming.
(Margaret Beckett) As I say, I think many people have
in fact begun to do so. Of course one of the other thingsagain
this will be the kind of issue the Policy Commission will look
atthat I have heard people discussing and tossing about
is, let us say, to take an example, that the thinking is that
people who are going to continue and prosper in farming may have
to have more IT skills than have been the case in the past, does
that always mean that the individual has to acquire those skills
or are there or will there be organisations, agencies, private
sector companies perhaps from which they can, at a practical price,
purchase those skills? I think there are a range of issues here.
There are, as ever, suggestions around that people might think
of retirement schemes and so on but we are talking, as ever, also
about costs, investment, etc.
69. The farmer's wife, I think, Secretary of
State, tends to learn the IT skills in my experience.
(Margaret Beckett) That is also my impression. I suspect
that if you had gone to them some years before and said "You
need IT skills", my impression from some of the women in
farming, to whom I have listened, is that they have in many cases
been amazed to learn what capacities they have and can develop
once the need to do so is there.
70. A radical reform of the CAP, Secretary of
State, does not necessarily mean a less expensive CAP, does it?
The lessons of past reforms have been that they can easily cost
as much and sometimes more.
(Margaret Beckett) I am very mindful of that, Mr Curry.
71. We have been talking this morning, the Government
has been talking, indeed its predecessor talked freely about a
redirection of support and taking different forms to achieve a
different purpose. Mr Jack introduced this famous scale between
incremental and radical. Would you be happy with a reform which
basically did not save much money but was essentially about the
redirection you felt was a better quality spend rather than a
(Margaret Beckett) No, I would not. I think it must
be an aim and a goal of the reforms we seek to pursue to ensure
it is not as expensive as the CAP is at present. I am extremely
mindful, I can assure you, of the fact that most previous attempts
to reform the CAPI say most because that was not true of
the Berlin Reforms, although people said that they should have
gone further and they should have been able to bring about a greater
changein general terms, yes, I am extraordinarily conscious
that previous attempts to reform the CAP have led to as much,
if not more, expenditure. I am also equally mindful that what
have been said to be transitional schemes in the past have turned
out somehow either not to be transitional or not to accomplish
the transition which was sought. I am under no illusion as to
the scale of the issues that we are seeking to tackle but I do
not think that is an excuse for not tackling them.
72. Berlin was a unique event in that Heads
of Government actually manage to dilute a reform agreed by farm
ministers. Most of us did not believe we would live to see this
(Margaret Beckett) Yes.
73. One way of cutting the cost of the CAP is
of course, as the Germans proposed at one stage, that a greater
proportion should be assumed nationally, something which the French,
of course, are averse to for many obvious reasons. Would this
also be a direction you would find congenial rather than the Treasury
(Margaret Beckett) I do not want to get too far down
the road of what is concrete. Certainly I think that has to be
an element in considering what would be a practical direction
(Mr Bender) Can I just add one word that has not come
up in this exchange and that is the word degressivity because
one of our aims in the next round of negotiations will be degressive
74. Which means?
(Mr Bender) Reduce the subsidies over time.
75. I would like the word explained.
(Margaret Beckett) It means a progressive reduction
in subsidy. Not a kind of one off cut but a policy and a path
that over time leads to a very clear reduction.
Chairman: The policy that is rolled out is rolled
76. Secretary of State, in your answer to Mr
Breed's line of question a moment ago you mentioned Doha. You
said that there was an acknowledgement by the Commission of the
need for further reductions in subsidy. Just for clarification,
for the record, is that a statement that says the Commission believe
that they need to go beyond that which is in Agenda 2000 which
was designed to cope with the WTO, if it does, how will that manifest
itself or was it a description that there may have to be some
shifting between blue and green boxes?
(Margaret Beckett) No, it was a commitment to a reduction
but let me make it quite clear, it is not a commitment of the
Commission, it is only a commitment of the Commission in so far
as the Commission is speaking on behalf of Member States. It is
the agreed negotiating mandate for Doha, agreed on behalf of all
77. I find that
(Margaret Beckett) amazing, yes.
78. No, it takes me back just for a second,
where is that published?
(Mr Bender) There are two issues. One is that a mandate
certainly will have been published, and we can let the Committee
know. The second is exactly what is about to be agreed at Doha
where the overnight news, as the Secretary of State said earlier,
is that there is agreement on the agriculture chapterwe
have yet to see that as a whole. What is not clear yet, because
the people we tried to speak to this morning were still locked
in rooms or trying to sleep or whatever, is whether that goes
beyond the mandate, in other words whether the EU has decided
on the spot to go further. I am afraid I cannot answer that at
the moment. The mandate we can certainly provide to the Committee
and clearly we can provide news on the Doha outcome as soon as
we know it
(Margaret Beckett) Whether it is watered down or beefed
up, we do not know.
79. Can I just follow the Chairman's line of
argument. You indicated that you would like ultimately to see
less money put into farming through the CAP. What economic modelling
is your Department doing to measure the effect of that? You indicated
a preference for transitional arrangements but if you are going
to start taking money out of agriculture, which has already had
a huge amount of money taken out of it, because of the difficulties
with farming, the effect if they are not handled properly could
(Margaret Beckett) Obviously everybody is very mindful
of that and nobody is about wanting in any way to destroy the
prospects of the people who are presently engaged in British agriculture.
You asked me for our overall long term goal and I simply say to
you that not only does it include reform of the way that public
money flows in but it also includes a belief that if we reform
the way in which it flows in we should also be able to reduce
the amount of money that is needed.