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Common Agricultural Policy

9. Sir Teddy Taylor (Rochford and Southend, East): What estimate she has made of changes to the cost of the common agricultural policy resulting from the proposed extension of the EU. [101120]

The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Margaret Beckett): Enlargement to a European Union of 25 is forecast by the Commission to cost Euro6.3 billion in common agricultural policy direct payments and market support in 2013. This is consistent with the ceilings on agricultural expenditure agreed at the European Council in October 2002.

Sir Teddy Taylor: The common agricultural policy has cost European central funds more than £100,000 million over the past five years, apart from the massive sums spent by member states and the extra costs borne by the consumer. Does not the Secretary of State accept that we will face a nightmare of spending with the extension of the CAP, bearing in mind the enormous potential for extension in countries such as Poland and Romania? Will she say whether there is any real

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possibility of a fundamental review of the CAP, which we were promised would come before the extension of Europe?

Margaret Beckett: The hon. Gentleman will know that a huge amount of discussion is now under way about reform of the CAP. I accept two of the points that he has made: first, it has long been a very expensive policy for taxpayers and consumers; secondly, it is important that we make sure that we can curtail that expenditure, not least because of enlargement. I assure the hon. Gentleman that the Government continue to work with all the vigour at our command to ensure as much reform as we can conceivably achieve.

Lawrie Quinn (Scarborough and Whitby): Has my right hon. Friend had an opportunity to make an assessment of the impact of these changes on upland areas such as the North York moors and on less favoured areas where producers are struggling quite a lot now, where the impact could be even worse in terms of a sustainable agricultural system?

Margaret Beckett: I entirely accept my hon. Friend's concern and I know that he speaks for his constituents in such areas in expressing that anxiety. I assure him that a great deal of work is going on all the time to assess the shifting proposals that are being made, as they are developed and expanded, to assess their impact on all areas. In general terms, we believe that the proposals would be beneficial to the farming community, including less favoured areas, as a result of the combined impact of the different measures. I assure my hon. Friend that we keep that under close review.

Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (Cotswold): The Secretary of State will be aware that the structure of British farming is that we have larger farms than those on the continent. We therefore stand to lose most from a reform of the CAP. Does she agree that it would be intolerable for British farmers to lose out but for the British taxpayer to continue to pay into the CAP only to subsidise continental farmers who would compete with British farmers in the single market?

Margaret Beckett: First, I entirely accept that the impact of CAP reform, as with the impact of the existing CAP, is different in different member states. The hon. Gentleman is entirely right that we have many larger farms. He will have noticed that, already, the Commission's initial suggestion of a ceiling on payments is no longer in the proposals. I assure him that it is no part of this Government's negotiating objectives to see British farmers suffer at the expense of others.

Mr. James Gray (North Wiltshire): The expression "no part of this Government's objectives" will be taken as a slightly disappointing reaction by the National Farmers Union and farmers. Does the Secretary of State not accept that 75 per cent. of continental farms receive

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less than Euro5,000 a year, but 43 per cent. of British farms are of a size whose subsidy will be heavily slashed under current proposals? Will she not toughen up her stance on this matter? Will she not fight for British farmers who have already been devastated, and many of whom are suicidal?

Margaret Beckett: Mindful of your injunction to give short answers, Mr. Speaker, I answered the point raised by the hon. Member for Cotswold (Mr. Clifton-Brown), which was about the larger farms. I entirely accept the point that the present structure of the proposals, with a franchise that excludes smaller farms, has a differential impact in different member states. We shall continue to fight for a scheme that is fair, both to British farmers and to others, not least because we are the only member state with real experience of a scheme of modulation, and it is only because it is seen to be fair to all that it is accepted at all.

10. Mr. Desmond Swayne (New Forest, West): What assessment she has made of the impact that the proposed reforms to the common agricultural policy will have upon farmers in the United Kingdom. [101121]

The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Margaret Beckett): We have undertaken various economic and impact assessments of the Commission's reform proposals. They conclude that, overall, the reforms would have a positive effect on farmers and on farm incomes in the UK.

Mr. Swayne : I find that hard to believe. The July 2002 proposals—the Government's regulatory impact assessment—did not deal with the sheep, beef and pig sectors. Will the report that is now due, consequent on the consultation period that has just ended, put that right?

Margaret Beckett: First, I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman finds the assessments hard to believe, but I assure him that they are available on the Department's website, a great many assessments are being undertaken, and it is not only the Government who believe that such a package of reform could be beneficial to UK farmers. With regard to issues of regulation, we continue to keep under review all of the regulatory approach that we adopt, in an effort, for example, through a whole-farm approach, to reduce and to simplify the regulations that farming faces.

Mr. Wayne David (Caerphilly): Has there been any assessment of the likely impact of the mid-term review of the CAP on food prices in the United Kingdom?

Margaret Beckett: Well, there will be a varying impact. We do not expect a particularly dramatic impact in the short term, but I assure my hon. Friend that the impact on consumers, taxpayers and farmers is very much part of the assessment that we are making.

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Business of the House

12.30 pm

Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst): Will the Leader of the House please give us the business for next week?

The Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Robin Cook): It will be a pleasure.

Monday 10 March—Conclusion of remaining stages of the Local Government Bill.

Tuesday 11 March—Estimates [2nd Allotted Day]. There will be a debate on the second report from the Foreign Affairs Committee on the foreign policy aspects of the war against terrorism.

At 7 pm the House will be asked to agree all outstanding estimates.

Wednesday 12 March—Proceedings on the Consolidated Fund (No. 2) Bill, followed by debate on Welsh Affairs on a motion for the Adjournment of the House. [Interruption.] I am glad that the hon. Member for Leominster (Mr. Wiggin) finds satisfaction with the business.

Thursday 13 March—Motion to approve a money resolution on the Fireworks Bill, followed by motions to approve money and ways and means resolutions on the Marine Safety Bill, followed by debate on flood and coastal defence policy on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

Friday 14 March—Private Members' Bills.

The provisional business for the following week will include:

Monday 17 March—Consideration of an allocation of time motion, followed by all stages of the Northern Ireland Assembly Elections Bill 2003.

Tuesday 18 March—Remaining stages of the Extradition Bill.

Wednesday 19 March—Consideration of Lords Amendments to the Community Care (Delayed Discharges etc) Bill.

The House may also be asked to consider any Lords messages that may be received.

Thursday 20 March—Second Reading of the Waste and Emissions Trading Bill [Lords].

The House will also be asked to consider any Lords messages that may be received.

Friday 21 March—Private Members' Bills.

The House will not adjourn until Royal Assent has been received to any Act.

The House may wish to be reminded that the Budget statement will be made on Wednesday 9 April. The House will now sit on Friday 11 April and will, subject to the progress of business, rise for the Easter recess on Monday 14 April and return on Monday 28 April.

Mr. Forth: I am grateful to the Leader for that information. Will he now do us the courtesy of telling us just why the Budget date has been so delayed? Why was the Budget date announced so late, and why was it sneaked out rather surreptitiously yesterday in a written ministerial statement? What is going wrong? Is the

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Chancellor ashamed of his Budget? Is he trying to avoid us in some way? Will the Leader come straight about this? Surely we and the country deserve an explanation rather than a series of late, sneaky and shamefaced announcements.

I should like to return to the dodgy dossier. I think that we need either a statement or a debate on its status and its provenance. I say that because on 10 February the Prime Minister, no less, said in a written answer:

On 24 February, the Prime Minister said in reply to my hon. Friend the Member for North Essex (Mr. Jenkin):

On 27 February, my right hon. Friend the Member for Bracknell (Mr. Mackay) asked about the dodgy dossier. The Leader of the House said:

Surely if the dossier is a Government document, as the Prime Minister has said, with all the weight and significance that that implies, especially on a subject as important as Iraq, we must now know—I ask the Leader of the House to tell us now or to allow a debate on it—who saw the document, who authorised it, whether it was done at official level or whether a Minister is responsible for it, its contents and what it says. In the name of open government, please tell us who.

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