Examination of Witness (Questions 420-430)
WEDNESDAY 13 FEBRUARY 2002
420. That is worth getting underway irrespective
of the cost and nature of CAP reform?
(Sir Donald Curry) Absolutely.
421. Which needs to go on in parallel presumably?
(Sir Donald Curry) Absolutely, yes, certainly. These
are measures which can be done now to encourage our industry to
see the market place, the means of generating more profits.
422. The last area I want to look at is monitoring
progress, implementation. Firstly, when do you think the Government
will respond to your report?
(Sir Donald Curry) I am told that there is to be a
seminar in Downing Street towards the end of March when the Government
will produce its first comprehensive response to the report but
that the funding required will clearly be a matter for the Public
Spending Review which will come out in July. So the initial response
will presumably be conditional on funding available through the
Spending Review in July and subsequent to that the Government
intendDEFRA intendestablishing an implementation
group with stakeholder representatives on it to oversee the implementation
of the report.
423. I think that was the next point I was coming
to. I was going to ask you whether or not that monitoring of implementation
and the ability to adjust and change the shape over time of the
policy and the recommendations, would that be a task for an independent
group? That is still a valid question, even if DEFRA wants to
do it. Should there not be, for example, a permanently constituted
policy commission looking at this so that these matters are independently
monitored and things the Government may not put in are nonetheless
kept on the agenda?
(Sir Donald Curry) There is certainly a need for external
pressure to ensure that the recommendations are delivered. I think
it would be inappropriate for Government and DEFRA in particular
not to be represented on that grouping but certainly it should
have external representation in order to ensure there is some
discipline applied to Government as well as the industry in delivering
the recommendations within the report.
424. Are you saying, Sir Donald, there does
need to be a new entity that can do that in addition to whatever
DEFRA and the Government do?
(Sir Donald Curry) Yes. I have to say that the Commission
was set up for the specific task of producing the report. Quite
a number of the commissioners felt fairly exhausted at the end
of this process and certainly were not looking for an ongoing
role. Some of them may, and indeed some of them are very keen
to ensure that the hard work and effort we have gone to does not
then sit in a vacuum and not be implemented and would be quite
keen to be involved. There is a need for a properly structured
group with appropriate Government representation on it to oversee
the implementation of this report.
425. Can I just get this right. If you do not
get the £500 million, you do not get the modulation in the
short term and then one of the central themes of the report switch
from payment on subsidy, the switch to the environment does not
(Sir Donald Curry) Yes.
426. In a sense a major theme of the report
is predicated on the £500 million?
(Sir Donald Curry) Yes.
427. On the funding, Sir Donald, the £500
million figure is in many ways a minimum figure because when we
were talking earlier on, the cost, for example, of better import
controls is on top of that and there may be other factors. So
we are talking about £500 million plus there?
(Sir Donald Curry) Yes.
428. Sir Donald, this is the last question,
you have done two and a half hours, it is hard work and I know
that. It is interesting in the report, there are things you talk
about and there are things you do not talk about. I was interested
in how cursory your references were to two very important sectors
which often find themselves in conflict. Given that Helen Browning
was on the Committee the references to organic farming do seem
to be very cursory and as far as GM is concerned you seem to claim
some credit for actually declining to say that it should be ruled
out. You actually quote "not prepared to rule them out".
I am slightly puzzled. Given there is bound to be a big debate
about what technology is going to do and given the whole argument
about organic is a very lively one and the compatibility between
the two, you do seem to have skated very rapidly over both of
these sectors. Would you like to just conclude by giving us a
burst on each related or unrelated as you feel appropriate?
(Sir Donald Curry) Thank you. If I can deal with them
in that order and take organic first. I have to say the take out
on the day by the media was that we had been driven down the organic
route and I found that surprising.
429. I was surprised how little you had.
(Sir Donald Curry) Exactly. There is, as the report
clearly states, an opportunity for organic farming, particularly
here in England in displacing what is a significant proportion
of imports satisfying the market currently. There is, we believe,
no reason why English organic producers could not be satisfying
a much greater proportion of that market. It is, we are told,
due to the fact that organic producers, particularly within Europe
and other Member States, have ongoing financial subsidies supporting
organic production which allows them to sell their products in
our market place at lower prices than we can produce them here.
There is ongoing organic subsidy in some other Member States.
There was a serious request from the organic producers here that
they should be given, also, organic subsidy in order to compete
with organic production overseas. We felt it inconsistent with
the theme of our report which is we do not like production subsidies
so why should we adopt a new production subsidy for organic production.
Ultimately the market place needs to pull through the demand for
organic products. We do, however, recognise that organic farming
does deliver environmental benefits and, therefore, within our
tiered environmental scheme there needs to be a specific place
for organic farming. The reason for that is a sound one, I think.
There is no point saying to organic farmers "You should not
spread your fertiliser or spray your pesticides near water courses
as part of the compliance requirement to participate in a broad
and shallow scheme" when they do not spread any fertiliser
or pesticides. There is a need to identify a specific tier within
that structure to support organic farming. We think that is soundly
based and, indeed, suggest that the conversion grants which are
currently available could be phased out when this scheme is up
and running. So it is the market and the delivery of environmental
goods which encourages organic production and allows the market
to take that up. I think that is a very sound position to be in.
On biotechnology and this whole area which has been subject to,
and is still subject to, considerable debate, we were under intense
pressure, you can imagine, from some lobbyists to suggest this
is all bad, it is potentially disastrous, it could spread across
the industry and could have immensely damaging results. We are
saying that need not be the case. We think it is important to
retain an open mind and in some sectors this might have real benefits.
So we ought, as an industry, to continue to explore this area,
allow proper testing to take place to make sure as far as possible
that we have covered off the risks and potential damages and that
there needs to be much better consultation than there has been
in the past historically in this whole area.
430. Sir Donald, it is just before one o'clock.
We have had a very long session and we are very grateful to you.
You promised to send us some written information on the costs,
I just wanted to remind you of that. If you could deconstruct
your £500 million as far as possible and if you could add
to that the elements which come from internally generatedif
I can describe them in those termsindustry driven generated
funds and externally generated funds that would be extremely helpful
to us because eventually this will become a matter for debate
in Parliament. We will watch how the Government reacts to it.
We are coming up to a new three year period of public expenditure
review. All this will be important. We need to know what we are
talking about. We are grateful to you for coming and for handling
it solo, which I know actually is a very demanding process. We
hope you do not feel too ragged at the end of it. I have no doubt
we will want to continue this dialogue. You are the first to deliver
and we look forward to submitting the Chairmen of the other two
reports to the identical treatment.
(Sir Donald Curry) I will alert them to that. Thank
you very much.
Chairman: Thank you.