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4.47 pm

Lord Taylor of Holbeach moved Amendment No. 2:

“(i) Article 2, paragraph 49(c), inserting new paragraphs 2 and 3 in Article 37 TEC (TFEU), on implementing and pursuing the objectives of the common agricultural policy (CAP) and common fisheries policy, unless the Secretary of State has—(a) laid a statement before Parliament, setting out his objectives for achieving as soon as possible comprehensive reform of the CAP and of the common fisheries policy, together with his assessment of the level of support for those objectives in the EU;(b) undertaken to lay a similar statement before Parliament annually; and(c) those objectives and the timetable for their intended implementation have been approved by affirmative resolution of both Houses of Parliament; and(ii) ”

The noble Lord said: My Lords, in speaking to Amendment No. 2, I have to declare an interest: I remain actively engaged in my family’s agricultural

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and horticultural business. We had interesting debates on the common agricultural policy and the common fisheries policy in Committee. I make no apology for returning to these matters on Report. The common agricultural policy remains by far the largest single area of expenditure within the EU budget, and I see it as right, therefore, to seek to include this importance within the Bill, and in the new constitutional settlements which the treaty represents and for which the Bill provides.

This amendment would ensure that our Parliament receives an annual report on the state and development of both these policies and, through the affirmative resolution procedure, ensure that there is opportunity for both Houses of Parliament to discuss and debate on an annual basis progress and reform of these policies. It will require the Secretary of State to present his objectives for reform and to seek the support of Parliament to this end.

I know that my noble friend the Duke of Montrose will speak in detail on the common fisheries policy. But, as I pointed out in Committee, the common agricultural policy has almost iconic status in the history of the European Union. Other than the coal and steel community, it is the longest living relic of those early days and the idealism which lay behind the creation of the European Community.

Since that time, we have seen enormous structural and technical change. Whatever one’s views, the common agricultural policy has provided the countryside, as well as farmers and growers, with some economic security during this period. It has also ensured that the consumer receives good quality food at reasonable prices. All that has changed since the last harvest and, in the eyes of most commentators, changed for good. A year ago, how much mileage would there have been in seeking to develop interest in a discussion on food security? Which pundit would have predicted the violent change in food commodity prices? Things are changing fast, and the challenge to politicians and parliamentarians is to ensure that they operate within a structure that is able to change and adapt rapidly to meet these changing times.

Nothing shows the problem more than the Commission’s draft health check on the common agricultural policy, which was produced two weeks ago. We need to remember that it still needs to be approved. This will not happen until the autumn, and it may not survive unamended. This programme represents the sort of policy changes that almost all noble Lords would agree with. It reflects well the views of our own European Committee report on the future of CAP reform, chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Sewel, and which we are to debate tomorrow afternoon. However, we know that Europe’s common agricultural policy is too inflexible and too hidebound by national self-interest to change fast enough. It is not unreasonable to ask what the Government are doing to force the pace of change. I remind noble Lords that the Government gave up our rebate on the promised reform of the common agricultural policy. This was against a background where the House would find noble Lords in almost complete agreement over the CAP.

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Lord Tomlinson: My Lords, will the noble Lord reflect on his comment that the Government were persuaded to give up the rebate? On reflection, the noble Lord will believe that it is more accurate to say that the Government gave up part of the rebate.

Lord Taylor of Holbeach: My Lords, none the less, there was a trade-off, which was, indeed, the incentive for the Government to surrender the rebate. Part or all of it was to seek reform of the common agricultural policy. We accept that it is part of the Government’s agenda to seek reform of the CAP. I table these amendments bearing that very much in mind.

Lord Forsyth of Drumlean: My Lords, I apologise for interrupting my noble friend, but when he uses the term “trade-off” for part of the rebate, what exactly did we get?

Lord Taylor of Holbeach: My Lords, that is exactly my point. We have reason to demand that the Government obtain their part of the deal. What are the Government doing to pursue reform within Europe on the common agricultural policy? I give way again.

Lord Anderson of Swansea: My Lords, the noble Lord properly mentioned tomorrow afternoon’s debate. Is there anything preventing either his party, or any individual Member of this House, putting down regular Motions for debate, which will force the Government to make the appropriate statement?

Lord Taylor of Holbeach: My Lords, I have not reached that point in my argument. It will be possible to discuss the common agricultural policy at various points throughout any parliamentary year, subject to the permission of the usual channels. This amendment seeks to present the House with a formalised method of doing so, and demands that the Government present, in a structured form, how well they see reform of the CAP going, and how they see the future development of the CAP.

Lord Dykes: My Lords—

Lord Taylor of Holbeach: My Lords, I shall give way once more, but I really do want to get on with my speech.

Lord Dykes: My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Lord and I shall be brief. The noble Lord gave a generalised response to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Tomlinson, giving the impression that the entire rebate was given up, whereas it was in fact only a minor part of it. The rebate was unique and a special privilege for the agricultural community of the United Kingdom, and it has been of great benefit. However, it was never envisaged that it would last indefinitely. It was always supposed to be of limited duration.

Lord Taylor of Holbeach: My Lords, I hope that noble Lords will recognise that I am seeking a consensus on this issue. I do not want to be confrontational. If I

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am not achieving a consensus, perhaps it is because of my inability to advocate sufficiently well the point of view I am trying to express. That point of view hinges on the idea that if the Government were persuaded to surrender all or part of the rebate we will accept the intervention of the noble Lord, Lord Tomlinson, that it was only part—they did so on the understanding that there would be reform of the common agricultural policy. This amendment seeks to monitor the status of that reform. It is a reasonable point and one on which noble Lords around the House, I believe, will agree. I suspect that there is not much division on this issue and that most noble Lords accept the premise on which we are seeking to reform the CAP, as indeed the report of the committee chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Sewel, makes very clear.

I doubt whether there is anything other than complete agreement in this House that the common agricultural policy is over-centralised, over-bureaucratic and, above all, over-regulated. It is almost universally recognised that it is inflexible and wasteful of resources. Indeed, I doubt whether we will hear a single voice saying that the CAP is spending too little or is underregulated. Against that background, Members of the House and the Government have to acknowledge that the enemies of reform do not lie in this place, they lie in the users of the weapon of national self-interest who have become entrenched by the years of horse-trading and compromise that have characterised the way in which the policy has developed. Hence the reason for this amendment. All the great reforms in our history have been brought about by the power of Parliament. It is the people speaking through Parliament who give Government the authority to implement change. All through the Climate Change Bill Members on every Bench, Government and Opposition, recognised that. The Government acknowledged throughout the Bill both the need for regular reporting to Parliament and for harnessing Parliament’s authority to maintain the momentum for change.

If the Government are serious about CAP reform; if they wish to ensure that both the CAP and the common fisheries policy function to harness the energy of farmers, growers and fishermen to satisfy the needs of the people of Europe for good quality food at reasonable prices; and if they see that the changing conditions being reflected in commodity prices in the global economy require policies that can adapt to them, they will recognise that the power of Parliament is an ally in this matter. That is why I present this amendment in the belief that whatever our views on Europe or on the detail of reform, we can all unite to ensure our role as parliamentarians and the future role of this House. I beg to move.

5 pm

The Duke of Montrose: My Lords, in following my noble friend on this issue, I hope that he will forgive me if I look at the whole ambit of the amendment rather than simply the fisheries policy. As we have seen at previous stages of the Bill, we are dealing with two topics that raise great concern whenever the treaty of Rome and its successors come into discussion. One of them requires a large proportion of the finances that

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are available to the Community, and the other remarkably little, but both can be seen as being in urgent need of reform. As my noble friend emphasised, politicians from all parties in this country have been arguing for reform for some time.

I must also declare my interest as a livestock farmer in one of the designated “less favoured areas” of the European Union and as someone has watched all the stages through which the CAP has evolved since the United Kingdom first signed up. The reforms that we are facing now appear to require consideration of reform of the CAP in a different context; that which the Government were inclined to use in the past few years. My noble friend Lord Taylor emphasised that point. It is surely still worth reminding ourselves of the aims with which the common agricultural policy was set out. There were two prime objectives: first, to secure a stable food supply for the population of Europe and, secondly, to bring the income levels of those working in the agricultural community up to the same level as industrial wages.

In many ways it exceeded its aim in both fields, although it is worth bearing in mind that at the beginning a largely peasant agriculture meant that a country like France had nearly 50 per cent of the working population engaged in food production and now has less than 10 per cent. If anything, that represents a gigantic social revolution. Even today it is affected in that country by a level of unemployment two or three times that which we have in this country.

The challenge that any review of the CAP faces in this area is to provide a sustainable and stable food supply in world terms where agriculture in this part of the world has embraced diversification into leisure, fuel production and many other fields. There is surely no doubt that Parliament should have a chance to comment on the direction in which it is felt that we should go. A different picture emerges when we come to the fishing policy, which has caused a rapid decline, particularly in our own fishing industry, but at the same time a huge decline in the resources on which the fishing industry depends. It is surely all very well to say that a requirement of a common market is that all participants should be able to exploit the resource freely or at least do so outside the six nautical mile limit, but it sounds like the proposition that we should all have a common currency but we do not consider it necessary to have a central bank to control those who wish to take more money out of the system than they should, because it suits them to do so.

Even a central bank has a little trouble in imposing discipline on the European Union at present. When it comes to fishing, the European Union is big on producing scientific papers and computer models on what it thinks the fishing industry needs, but less effective in having the resources or inclination to provide any meaningful control on the activity that occurs out at sea.

It was in that light that in Committee I moved an amendment to ask the Government to consider excluding the European Union from sole competence on the conservation of marine and biological resources, that being the most fundamental element of any common

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fisheries policy. There are such glaring ways in which the current fisheries policy is not working that radical changes will be required, all of which will have major consequences for our own fishing communities and on which the representatives in Parliament will be able to throw a much more realistic light.

Technology for the first time offers us the surety of knowing where our national boundaries are at sea and where fishing activities are going on in relation to those boundaries. Whatever route Europe decides to go down on the policy for fisheries management, surely the only practical way of exerting management on these activities is to allow member states to police their own waters.

That is incredibly important between the six and 12 nautical mile limits. The 12 nautical mile limit represents a source of 90 per cent of our shellfish catch, let alone anything else, but proper control could also have benefits in a wider area. I support the amendment.

Earl Ferrers: My Lords, I would like to cast an observation, because we are talking about the common agricultural policy. I have always thought, and increasingly thought, that that is a disaster. It is not common at all. I have never understood why everyone has said that in order for the European Community to co-operate and work together there must be a common agricultural policy. I do not see any connection between the working of the Community and having a common agricultural policy any more than a common steel or coal policy.

When one sees, as we saw some years ago, milk in the United Kingdom at 13p a litre and milk in Holland at 27p a litre, one can only say: what is common about that? There is nothing common about it. We have seen our own agriculture decimated by the common agricultural policy. We have seen our own fisheries decimated by the common agricultural policy. People have been allowed to come and fish grounds that were always ours. They have taken the fish out, but because they are not allowed to land more than so many, they have put them back into the sea, dead and useless. The argument ought to be that you should not gather out of the sea more fish than you should, not that you should not land those fish and then throw back into the sea a whole lot of fish that would have been perfectly good but are now dead.

The common agricultural policy is, as my noble friend Lord Taylor said, over-centralised, over-bureaucratised and overregulated. Anyone who has had anything to do with agriculture—I have been involved with it all my life—is horrified by what has happened over the past 15 to 20 years. Farmers do not farm their land any more as they used to. They used to farm and had the support of the Government. The only farmer now is the Government and the Government pay people to do their work: “If you plant so many metres of hedge then we will pay you so much. If you do such and such, we will pay you so much”. In other words the Government are dictating what the role of agriculture should be and it is a disaster.

Let us return to thinking about the wine lakes, butter mountains and wheat mountains, and then look at one simple statistic. I am not good on statistics

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but I would advise your Lordships of this. In 1960, there were 3,000 million people in the world, but it was estimated that by 2000 that would double to 6,000 million and by 2020 double again to 12,000 million. Over the lifetime of those of us who are now on this earth the population of the world will have multiplied fourfold. Think back to the time of the Greeks and the pharaohs, to the Middle Ages, the First World War and the Second World War. It has taken all that time to get to 3,000 million people, but that number will be increased fourfold in 60 years’ time. It is alarming.

Where will all the food come from? We have had set-aside policies to keep the food production down but that has gone now. But in a short while there will be a great shortage of food. We will turn round and say, “What have we done? We have not provided for the future”. It is a great pity.

I used to like the common agricultural policy when I used to go—as I was sometimes allowed to do when my noble friend Lord Walker was Minister of Agriculture—to the Council of Ministers. I would see the members from all the other countries sitting round—the Italians, the French, the Germans and the British. Thirty years before they were bombing people to pieces but now they were arguing about the price of a pat of butter. It all seemed to me to be good stuff. But that has gone out of the window. Now the European Community is trying to control us. I think that it is wrong and I just wish that the common agricultural policy did not exist.

Lord Tomlinson: My Lords, I listened with great interest to the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, introducing his amendment. Perhaps I may pick up on the intervention that I made and the subsequent discussion of it.

In the discussions that took place at the European Council the United Kingdom Government clearly surrendered part of their rebate. It was not done exclusively as a trade-off—which was the rather crude description—for agricultural reform; it was also partly done within the confines of our own arguments and wishes for having a cap on the total overall budget to get the necessary resources available in the budget to allow the proper provision of cohesion funds for the new accession countries that we were so keen to see join the European Union. You cannot be in favour, as most people in this House are, of seeing the enlargement of the Union to the east and the bringing in many of those poor re-emerging democracies and then say, “But we are not prepared to pay part of the bill for the cohesion benefits that we enjoyed and we are going to deny you”. It was partly the process of this country paying the price for enlargement that every political party in this country said that they were in favour of that: perhaps not every party—I see the noble Lord, Lord Pearson—but every party of significance. The rebate was there. It was not just a crude trade-off; it had other purposes.

In saying that, we would be gravely mistaken if we allowed the assertion to be made in this House that part of the deal was for reform; where is the reform? The implication is that none has taken place. I will join with anybody in this House in wanting to see a continuation of and extension of the reform of the

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common agricultural policy, but to conclude from that that no reform has taken place is the mythology that we expect to see peddled by the odd couple of Back-Benchers, not by those on the Front Bench. Agricultural reform—although not enough, not fast enough, not wide enough and not deep enough—has nevertheless been significant.

The noble Lord, Lord Taylor, referred quite properly to the report by the sub-committee chaired by my noble friend Lord Sewel, who I hope will speak in this debate on agriculture. I hope when it comes to the debate tomorrow afternoon on the sub-committee’s report that the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, will acknowledge many of the reforms in that report as going in the right direction—not there, not achieved, not fully or as far as we want, but nevertheless going in the right direction. In relation to environmental goals, cross-compliance, decoupling of payments, set-aside, market intervention, export subsidies and import tariffs, not to mention modulation and preparation for problems of climate change, this report is a good catalogue of both what is being done and what still needs to be done in order to achieve the task that we set out to achieve in the deal that was struck at the European Council.

Lord Taylor of Holbeach: My Lords, I do not wish to establish a dialogue on this issue but let me repeat the words I actually used. I was seeking to agree totally with what the noble Lord said about the report, acknowledging that these were just the sort of reforms on which noble Lords could agree. I said that this programme represents the sort of changes in policy with which noble Lords would almost all agree and reflects well on the policy of our own European Union Committee report. I was intending to show that already, because circumstances have changed, the need for further reform had become even greater than had been acknowledged by this report. I hope the noble Lord will accept that those were the terms in which I was presenting my argument.

Lord Tomlinson: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, is absolutely fair in the way that he presents it. In my critical view of opposition Members, I was thinking more of the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth—having made his quick intervention to score a cheap party political point, I notice that he is no longer with us—who asked about what reform had taken place. The noble Lord, Lord Taylor, agrees with what I say and I agree with what he says: the process of reform is well under way. It has not got to where it needs to be, and we must ensure through our parliamentary pressure and financial constraint that the process of reform continues.

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