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Common Agricultural Policy

6. Mr. Ian Davidson (Glasgow, Pollok): What progress she has made in reforming the Common Agricultural Policy of the EU during the last month. [81208]

The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Margaret Beckett): A limit to CAP spending for the period 2007–13 has been agreed on a basis that the Commission sees as mandating it to continue with its main proposals for reform.

Mr. Davidson : Am I right in thinking that that was essentially a way of saying that progress this month, as in virtually every other month, has been negligible, and that the progress that the Government are making in their efforts, rightly, to reform the CAP continues to be negligible? Is it not about time that we accepted that the CAP is simply unreformable, that it is one of those areas in which modernisation is clearly not working, and that we must consider whether withdrawal from the CAP, or something similar, is the only possible alternative for us in such circumstances?

Margaret Beckett: I thought that I was going to agree with my hon. Friend, but I am afraid that I cannot conceivably join him where he finished up. It is not fair

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to say that progress has been negligible. It has made people look afresh at the details of the proposals that the Commission has introduced and that it will flesh out. That is a good thing.

Inevitably in these circumstances, many meetings and discussions have taken place further to identify where different member states stand, where there is common ground and where there is scope for agreement and so on. However, I certainly cannot agree with my hon. Friend that there is sense or merit in our withdrawing from the CAP, not least because we would be totally unable to do that unless we withdrew from the European Union.

Mr. Henry Bellingham (North-West Norfolk): When the Secretary of State goes through the discussions on the reform process, will she talk to her fellow socialist Members of the European Parliament? For example, will she ask about the recent European Parliament report on foot and mouth? Will she ask about the findings of incompetence and about a Government who were more concerned about the political implications of the crisis than about trying to solve it? Is it any wonder that she did not order a full public inquiry into the foot and mouth crisis? What is her comment on the European Parliament report?

Margaret Beckett: I do not need to talk to my socialist colleagues in the European Parliament about this matter. Long ago, they prepared what I understand to be a fairly sensible core report that did what the Committee was set up to do—consider what lessons there were for Europe as a whole as opposed to the lessons specifically for the United Kingdom. The people who were in a majority to force through the changes to which the hon. Gentleman referred were members of the Conservative party and the Green party. They worked hand in hand as they sought to turn the report into a rant against the British Government and not into something serious that Europe can use.

Mr. Mark Lazarowicz (Edinburgh, North and Leith): Does my right hon. Friend agree that one of the scandalous features of the CAP is the way that it—as well as ripping off British consumers—damages the livelihoods of producers in developing countries? Does she not agree that it really is time to stop the dumping of surplus European agricultural produce at subsidised prices in developing countries? Will she give a commitment that she will pursue that objective at the forthcoming Agriculture Council meeting and at the Heads of Government meetings over the next few weeks?

Margaret Beckett: I can certainly wholeheartedly give that commitment. I assure my hon. Friend that I have taken exactly that stance over the past few months at the Agriculture Council meetings and at the world conference in Johannesburg. I fully expect to continue taking it. He is entirely right. There is growing recognition of the problems that are exacerbated by the structures of the CAP with regard to the developing

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world. I entirely share his view that it is hugely important that we lay the foundation for ameliorating those problems.

Andrew George (St. Ives): Does the Secretary of State agree that, to secure the much-desired rapid reform of the common agricultural policy, she may need to engage in further stand-up rows with her European colleagues, particularly in the light of the obvious cynical manipulation by France of legal proceedings so that it can avoid paying the hefty fine imposed on it for its entirely unacceptable and illegal ban on the importation of British beef?

Margaret Beckett: I am always willing, should it prove necessary, to have stand-up rows if that is the only way to get one's own way. However, I have consistently sought throughout my political career and in my role as a Minister to do what is effective. Having a stand-up row is sometimes not the most effective way to get one's way on behalf of one's country. However, I assure the hon. Gentleman that, if getting up and shouting at someone is required, I am quite happy to do that.

Mr. George Stevenson (Stoke-on-Trent, South): Although I recognise what my right hon. Friend says about progress being made on reform of the CAP, does she agree that the basic and unacceptable principles of the CAP remain in place? Despite the cap on spending over the next few years that she mentioned, is it not the case that, if the principles of the CAP remain in place, the budgetary consequences of lack of reform will be unacceptable in the light of enlargement?

Margaret Beckett: I agree with my hon. Friend. It has long been the case that people across Europe have appreciated the many problems associated with the CAP. Many of those problems persist. I also agree that the implications of applying the CAP to an enlarged Community are serious and substantial. It is a matter not only of the financial implications—although those are considerable, as he said—but of applying what is a bureaucratic, time-consuming, and frequently counterproductive structure to a fresh raft of member states. For those reasons, it is important to pursue reform, as we shall continue to do.


7. Mr. Alistair Carmichael (Orkney and Shetland): If she will make a statement on the present difficulties facing the fishing industry. [81209]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Mr. Elliot Morley): While recognising the impact on the industry, firm action is needed to halt the decline in fish stocks. The Government are working to identify possible alternatives to an extensive moratorium on fishing activities while respecting the need to act in response to the scientific advice.

Mr. Carmichael : Does the Minister consider it acceptable that the EU Commission can propose the closure of the white fish fishery without paying regard to the conservation measures introduced—the use of

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square-mesh panels and larger mesh sizes, and the decommissioning of 20 white fish boats in Scotland? If that is not acceptable, what is he going to do about it?

Mr. Morley: We are to debate these issues in detail this afternoon. The hon. Gentleman would be wrong to think that we would agree to any measure without taking into account what has been done by the Scottish and English fleets. We have not been able to do that so far, but there is a great deal of negotiation to take place, and analysis and interpretation of the science needs to be done. I know that the hon. Gentleman and representatives of the industry recently met my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland. I also know that the Scottish Executive have debated the issue extensively, and we are working in close partnership with them. We have done much to reduce effort, and I assure the hon. Gentleman that it will be taken into account in the calculations.

Lawrie Quinn (Scarborough and Whitby): Does my hon. Friend agree with Arnold Locker, a Whitby fisherman and chairman of the National Federation of Fishermen's Organisations, when he says that if enforcement measures that apply to Yorkshire fishermen were applied across Europe to ensure that policies were delivered, we might not be in the same position?

Mr. Morley: I agree with Mr. Locker that it is important that effective enforcement measures apply to all member states consistently across Europe. We will argue for the inclusion of that objective in a package of measures on cod recovery and common fisheries policy reform. There have been cases of rule breaking that are not unique to any one country or sector of the industry. Anyone who has been involved in that undermines scientific analysis and attempts at genuine conservation.

Mr. Mark Simmonds (Boston and Skegness): Will the Minister investigate the workings of the eastern sea fisheries committee over the past five years? There have been enormous problems with it and serious allegations of major impropriety. The fishermen whom the committee is supposed to represent and monitor have completely lost of confidence in it, especially those in my constituency who work out of Boston.

Mr. Morley: The hon. Gentleman will know that although I meet the Association of Sea Fisheries Committees and believe that the committees are important and valuable organisations, responsibility for the committees rests with local authorities. They are local committees, run by local authorities and representing local fishermen. I am aware of some of the problems that he has experienced with the committee, and we have corresponded on that. I listen carefully to points raised, especially in relation to a balance of representation, but any claim of impropriety is a matter for local authorities to investigate.

Mr. George Foulkes (Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley): I congratulate my hon. Friend on being the most experienced and effective fisheries Minister in the whole of the United Kingdom—[Laughter.] The Liberals will understand what I mean.

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Does my hon. Friend agree that it takes a miracle to replace the fish that have been scourged from the sea in cases of overfishing? Surely those of us who represent fishing constituencies have a responsibility not only to argue the case to Ministers, but to warn our constituents of the dangers of overfishing. We should not raise false hopes.

Mr. Morley: My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. We must have effective enforcement, which of course starts at home. However, we must also look at the impact on our seas of all fishing fleets. We need to take into account other aspects, such as industrial fishing and whether or not they are sustainable and have a long-term impact on fish stocks. I know that many Members share an interest in that issue.

Mr. Alex Salmond (Banff and Buchan): I welcome the fact that the Minister has just challenged the report by the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea on industrial fishing. I have that, that challenge extends to other aspects of the report. However, will he communicate to the Prime Minister the fact that it is not just the troops who are demoralised? The fishing communities in Scotland, Northern Ireland and the north of England are demoralised by the Prime Minister's apparent indifference to a crisis that threatens thousands of jobs. How does the fisheries Minister plan to engage the Government at the highest level to resist the total lunacy of the European Commission?

Mr. Morley: First, the Government are engaged at the highest level to represent the needs of our fishing communities. We well understand the regional importance of the fishing industry and the implications and consequences of such changes. We cannot, however, deny the science. We must take it into account, but we must also challenge it. I make it clear to the House that the United Kingdom Government will not sign up to any issue until we have a clear understanding of any proposals and their justification. The restriction of the nephrops fishery, for example, was originally proposed because of the cod by-catch. The hon. Gentleman will be aware that we have done a great deal of scientific work on the cod by-catch in the North sea fishery. It is minimal, and he will note that calls for restriction have now been withdrawn by the Commission.

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