Order for consideration of Lords amendments read.
To be considered on Monday 9 March at Seven o'clock.
[Lords] (By Order) Order for Third Reading read.
To be read the Third time on Thursday 12 March.
2) Bill-- (By Order)
Order for Second Reading read.
To be read a Second time on Monday 9 March at Seven o'clock.
4) Bill-- (By Order)
2) Bill-- (By Order)
(By Order) Orders for Second Reading read.
To be read a Second time on Thursday 12 March.
The Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. John Selwyn Gummer) : I intend to make animal welfare one of my priorities in thUnited Kingdom presidency, as I made clear when I wrote to hon. Members on 27 February.
The Government are promoting action on animal welfare in the European Community, based on the high standards in this country.
Mr. Burns : I congratulate my right hon. Friend on ensuring that Britain is at the forefront of those countries in Europe that are pressing for improved animal welfare. I urge my right hon. Friend to ensure that other EC countries emulate our far-reaching rules and regulations to ensure that there is a total ban on veal crates throughout the Community and that the transportation of live animals, particularly horses and ponies, inside the European continent is as stringently controlled as it is in this country under our domestic rules and regulations.
Mr. Gummer : I am sure that, both on veal crates and pig stalls and tethers, the rest of Europe will have to come up to our standards. I am pleased that we have achieved what most pople thought that we could not--we have stopped and will continue to stop the export of live horses and ponies. I congratulate all hon. Members on the support that they have given to the Government in fighting that battle. I do not believe that this is a nationalist issue. Horses and ponies in the rest of Europe must have the same sort of protection as they do in this country. I am pleased that the standards on the transport of live animals generally are approaching British standards and are no longer the low standards that once obtained.
Mr. Geraint Howells : I am sure that the Minister is aware that there is great concern about the quarantine restrictions being lifted on 1 April. Will he clarify the position on pets and dogs? What are the latest developments on foot and mouth in European countries?
Mr. Gummer : We have managed to get the rest of Europe to come up to our standards, get rid of vaccination and introduce a slaughter policy in relation to foot and mouth disease. We already allow animals from countries that have the same policy as us, such as Ireland, to be imported into this country. When the rest of Europe reaches the same standards as us, the same rules will apply. Quite rightly, once we have won the battle to raise everyone's standards so that we all have the same high levels, we can have a single market. We have said clearly that we shall not accept changes in the rules on rabies unless we can have at least the same safeguards as we have today. But we are perfectly prepared to look at scientific evidence-- we are not afraid of that. However, we will not make changes unless they benefit the United Kingdom.
Mr. Harry Greenway : Will my right hon. Friend accept the support and praise of all horse lovers for what the Government achieved when securing the continuation of minimum conditions for the export of live horses for slaughter? Will he, however, assure us that he will do all that he can to secure proper transport arrangements for live animals being exported, particularly horses? Will he further assure the House that the same strict safeguards and enforcement of rules on the protection and welfare of horses and other animals that apply in our country will apply in the EC area?
Mr. Gummer : My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister ensured at Maastricht that the British proposals on this matter were passed : first, all countries committed themselves to improving animal welfare, which was a major step forward never agreed between those countries before ; and, secondly, in future, the European Court of Justice will be in a position to fine countries that fail to keep their obligations under Community rules. During our presidency we must extend the competence of the
Column 427Community so that it can ensure that once animal welfare regulations are passed they are enforced--from Spain to Scotland and from Ireland to Greece.
Why is the Minister so inconsistent in his approach to animal welfare? On 11 February, he told the National Farmers Union that he had no intention of taking further steps unilaterally, but on 27 February he put out a press release saying that he did reserve the right to act unilaterally. Can he explain that contradiction, or is he just a politician running scared of the electorate and trying to be all things to all people?
Mr. Gummer : It is always dangerous when the hon. Gentleman reads only the first half of a sentence. I told the National Farmers Union that I did not believe that unilateral action would help, because if it is taken, the British housewife tends to buy the cheaper product from the rest of Europe and, therefore, we export animal welfare problems to the rest of Europe. I believe that we should not be nationalistic about animal welfare ; we should care for animals in France and Germany as well as for those in Britain.
I said to the NFU and in my press statement that I reserved the right to take emergency action if, for instance, people in this country started to use coloured lenses for chickens, which would be outrageous--I would stop it before it started. That is a perfectly coherent position.
Several Hon. Members rose --
The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. David Maclean) : The Food Safety Act is working very effectively improving the quality of our food and giving consumers confidence in the integrity of the food supply.
Mr. Coombs : Does my hon. Friend agree that the full implementation of the Food Safety Act 1990 will ensure that Britain is in the forefront of Europe in terms of food safety in years to come? Will he reassure representatives of women's institutes and townswomen's guilds and other voluntary workers that the implementation of the Act is not designed to target their fund-raising activities in the preparation of food in village halls and elsewhere?
Mr. Maclean : I thank my hon. Friend for his earlier remarks, in which he recognised the great step forward that we have taken with the Food Safety Act, but I am concerned about his latter comments. There is nothing in the Food Safety Act that could justify local authorities specially targeting those organisations. The advice of the Government and the Audit Commission is to concentrate
Column 428on the main risks, and if town halls persist in targeting women's institutes, church fetes, village halls or charity teas, the Government will take action.
Mr. Cohen : Does not a Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food report show that production of early potatoes fell considerably, and that meant an increase in price? Is not it the case that we do not have widely available anywhere near the diversity of potatoes that is available in other countries, such as the United States? Is not this subject wholly appropriate for the Minister, because his Government have had their chips?
Mr. Curry : The hon. Gentleman has his facts diametrically wrong. There are 131 varieties of commercial potatoes in the United Kingdom, which is a great deal more than in any other country. I know that because I grow at least a dozen of them in my allotment.
Mr. Moss : I know that my hon. Friend the Minister is well aware of the widespread concern among arable farmers in my constituency about the EC Commission's proposals to review potato marketing. As the Potato Marketing Board has for many years worked successfully for the benefit of processors, consumers and producers, does he agree that any proposals to scrap the PMB should be strongly resisted?
Mr. Curry : The Potato Marketing Board is doing an excellent job, and we fully support it. Changes introduced a couple of years ago are working well and the aggressive marketing that is now taking place is very much to be desired. We have to face the European proposals and we shall tackle them as we tackle all other European proposals--in the interests of British farmers and British consumers.
Mr. Evans : Does the Minister agree that reform of the common agricultural policy--which costs £25 billion a year, consumes 65 per cent. of the Community budget and costs the average British family £17 per week--would be assisted by the introduction of an organic farming policy? Does he recall that more than two years ago he announced that an organic scheme would be introduced in a matter of months? What on earth has happened to that scheme?
Column 429legislation enabling us to do that. We have led the way in organic farming, both by the introduction of the United Kingdom register of organic food standards and by ensuring that European standards follow British standards. The hon. Gentleman's figures on the payment per family are not correct. One issue that is particularly damaging is the decision by the Labour party that if it were in power it would tax British farmers and give the money to the farmers of Spain, Portugal and Greece.
Mr. Marland : It is good to give credit where credit is due. Is my hon. Friend aware that he has earned the widespread respect of British farmers by standing up for their interests? Furthermore they know that they can trust him because he will not filch money from the common agricultural policy, as Labour would do, to use it for other purposes. Will he confirm that he does not stand alone in the European Community but that other countries support his firm stand?
Mr. Gummer : I am pleased to say that more and more European Community countries are coming to the views that we have pioneered on reform. I am sorry that the Leader of the Opposition has announced that he would take money from British farmers and contribute it to those in southern Europe. That is the wrong way to use common agricultural policy reforms.
Dr. David Clark : After all these years in office, does not the Minister yet understand that the British consumer simply cannot afford the exorbitant cost of the CAP, which does not exactly help the British farmer either? Has not he realised that the CAP is the only agricultural support system under which consumers pay a subsidy to farmers and end up paying more for their food than if they had not paid the subsidy in the first place? Will the right hon. Gentleman, in his swan song at the Dispatch Box, admit that not only has he been the most expensive Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, supporting an increase in CAP spending of 55 per cent., but that, by his failure to get meaningful reform of the CAP, he has been the most unsuccessful one, as well?
Mr. Gummer : The hon. Gentleman is in no position to make any of those comments. His party has now signed up to Mr. MacSharry and his basic philosophy. The Leader of the Opposition has said in the House that CAP reform would mean that he would take money from British farmers and spend it on farmers in southern countries. That has been contradicted by the Labour spokesman on Treasury matters, who has said that his party would take money from British farmers and divert it to regional policy. That has been contradicted by the hon. Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark), who has said that he would take money from British farmers with one hand and give part of it back to them with the other. It is the usual example of the Labour party spending money that it does not have and will not get. It proposes to do so three times, and those from whom the money would come would not get any benefit.
Mr. Hume : Is the Minister aware that the Commissioner for Agriculture is now the Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development? A major part of the reform of the CAP is focused on rural development, and that is important for less-favoured areas where there are smaller farms. What steps has the Ministry taken to encourage farmers in those areas to consider alternative
Column 430land use and to recognise that agriculture policy is no longer about prices only but embraces rural development, rural housing and rural agriculture that is based on their products? Is there a planned approach by the Government to make maximum use of such a policy to develop employment in the poorer rural areas?
Mr. Gummer : Yes, certainly. We oppose Mr. MacSharry's proposals because hardly any farmers will be able to gain by his support for rural development. To Mr. MacSharry, rural development means no help for the farmers of Wales and more help for the farmers of southern Ireland. It means no help for the farmers of Scotland and more help for the farmers of Portugal and Bavaria. That is a divisive policy, not a rural development policy, which would affect countries and areas of the European Community. That is why we oppose it.
Mr. Cash : Does my right hon. Friend agree that the British farmer is the most efficient farmer in Europe? Does he agree also that the MacSharry proposals will have an extremely damaging effect on the British farmer? Will he do everything to ensure that the recent announcement by the European Community, which reflects the attitude of the French and those who agree with them in respect of the general agreement on tariffs and trade proposals, will not be immensely damaging to British farming and world trade as a whole? Will my right hon. Friend do something about that?
Mr. Gummer : It is most important that we have a GATT solution. Britain, together with most of our partners, made sure that the next step towards that was taken on Monday. The French and one or two other countries were outvoted on that issue.
It is clear that, increasingly, other countries in the Community are supporting our view on CAP reform. That is why they refuse to accept the Commission type of document that was presented on Monday and Tuesday and have demanded that we look back once again at the fundamental and basic principle. The principles that we want are no discrimination, a closer approach to the market, consideration of more environmental matters at the centre of the European Community and a sensible CAP that is designed to support efficient farmers and the proper backing of the rural economy.
5. Mr. Kennedy : To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will make a further statement on the implications for United Kingdom agriculture of the MacSharry proposals ; and if he will make a statement.
Mr. Kennedy : The Minister obviously recognises that there is continuing concern, not least in Scottish agriculture, including north of Scotland agriculture, about the likely effect of the MacSharry proposals as presently cast. Does he agree that Scottish agriculture, including north of Scotland agriculture, can hardly have been--
Column 431The hon. Member for Ross, Cromarty and Skye (Mr. Kennedy) asked about the MacSharry proposals. The Commission's proposals for reform of the CAP would discriminate heavily against United Kingdom agriculture. That is why I continue to seek an outcome to the negotiations which is fair for British farmers and encourages, not discourages, efficiency. I hope that the GATT solution will help that as well.
Mr. Kennedy : I think that hon. Members on both sides of the House will agree that those two issues are closely connected, but I should like the Minister to say a little more about the specific question that I raised.
Given their less-favoured area status, Scottish and north of Scotland agriculture can hardly be said to have contributed to the problems of CAP overproduction and the related MacSharry implications. What is the Minister's guess in regard to a possible deadline for a conclusion to the MacSharry discussions--not least in the context of the GATT negotiations that must follow?
Mr. Gummer : It is important to secure the GATT solution first, if we are to have one. That must be done within a reasonable period. Until we know what we have signed up to in GATT, it will be difficult to tell how much we must alter the CAP to meet our obligations. Many alterations will have to be made in any event, and there is no question of CAP reform depending on the GATT solution.
The timetable will, I hope, mean a rapid solution to the CAP problem very soon after the achievement of a GATT solution. I hope that it will come about under the Portuguese presidency, and I am working towards that end ; but it must be an end that does not discriminate against Scottish farmers or British farmers generally. I shall keep the process going until we achieve a fair solution.
Sir Hector Monro : Will my right hon. Friend continue his robust and effective opposition to the MacSharry proposals? Will he bring home to Ministers on the continent the fact that the headage basis would prove devastating for hill and upland farmers in the United Kingdom and will he do everything possible to make those Ministers see our point of view?
Mr. Gummer : The Spanish, Dutch, Danish and Belgian Ministers have now committed themselves to the view that such discrimination is unacceptable. That is a great improvement, and I hope very much that the Commission will soon understand that headage limits do not reduce overproduction but merely discriminate against some of the poorest parts of the United Kingdom. Some of the farmers concerned--especially those in Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and the backbone of England--suffer particularly from the low prices.
Mr. John P. Smith : Does the Minister realise the damage that the current MacSharry proposals will do to family farms in my constituency, Vale of Glamorgan? Does he share the concern that I now feel, following my recent meeting with MacSharry, that any MacSharry proposals that include price support will penalise our farmers?
Column 432dependent on farmers who are not big farmers in the general sense of the term but who need the support that they now have. I hope, however, that the hon. Gentleman will explain to the Leader of the Opposition that Welsh farmers could not afford to have their incomes cuts so that the money could be spent on Spanish, Greek and Portuguese farmers. That is what the right hon. Gentleman has said that he would do if he were Prime Minister.
Mr. Rathbone : In anticipation of the meeting of the Agriculture Council, will my right hon. Friend re-commit the Government to the search for an equitable basis on which to reduce farm prices within the European Community and worldwide and to reduce trade barriers as well?
Mr. Gummer : I am wholly concerned to fight for the achievement of an equitable GATT solution as rapidly as possible. It must be a solution that reduces prices across the board, not only equitably throughout Europe but in the United States. This is a proper negotiation, in which both sides will have to give ground if we are to achieve a solution. I look to the current discussions, and also to the United States, to give the ground that is needed.
Mr. Edwards : What reassurance can the Minister give the dairy farmers of Monmouthshire that during his discussions on GATT their interests will be protected? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that those farmers have seen a decline in their incomes and an increase in their costs, and are worried about their capacity to invest in the future? What reassurance can he give them that they will be able to invest in dairy production in Monmouthshire?
Mr. John D. Taylor : Pursuant to the reply that the Minister gave earlier to the hon. Member for Ross, Cromarty and Skye (Mr. Kennedy), and as there has been much speculation that there will be no GATT settlement at all this year, will the Minister confirm that, should there be no GATT settlement, he will oppose the MacSharry proposals for the rest of this year?
Mr. Gummer : If there is no GATT settlement, during our presidency we shall seek to achieve the necessary reform of the common agricultural policy. That reform will be based not on the discriminatory attitudes of Mr. MacSharry but on a sensible policy of supporting agriculture fairly throughout the Community, bringing agriculture closer to the market and ensuring that the environment is a central concern of the CAP. It will also ensure that economic farmers are enabled to compete throughout the world. There will have to be specific help for those in the least favoured areas, and particular help for restructuring in the southern countries of Europe.
Column 433Mr. Favell : It is reported on the front page of The Times today that the common agricultural policy--that squalid policy which is costing British families an average of £18.50 a week each--will destroy the world free trade talks, which have been going on for four or five years, and involve just about every country in the world. Is it not clear, in retrospect, that our right hon. Friend the Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher) was absolutely right when she went to Rome in October 1990 and warned our partners that the talks should be about world free trade, and not about cloud cuckoo land--that is, political and economic union, which was doomed to failure in any event?
Mr. Gummer : The fact is that The Times report is not correct. The second fact is that there has been a great deal of obfuscation and obstruction from the United States in the negotiations. It is wholly wrong to suggest that it is the European Community alone which has difficulties with the agriculture dossier. We must both find a way through this, and I demand that we in this country support the Commission in its negotiations, demanding that the United States come further towards us, so that together we can find a solution for the whole world, instead of throwing batons at each other across the Atlantic.
Mr. Hain : The Government propose to Brussels that the same upper limits be set on dosages of dietary supplements for ordinary consumers buying off the shelves as for professional practitioners of alternative medicine, even though such practitioners may have good reasons for recommending higher doses to their patients. Surely the Government should exempt them. Otherwise, 18 million people who depend on food supplements-- including healthy eaters such as yourself, Mr. Speaker--will be discriminated against.
Mr. Maclean : I entirely reject that suggestion. To suggest, as do other countries in the European Community, and the Commission itself, that there could be maximum daily doses of individual tablets prescribed, is not incompatible with saying that the products will continue to be freely available to all those who wish to use them.
Sir Anthony Grant : Will my hon. Friend confirm that he has no proposals to set up some absurd bureaucratic organisation to tell farmers what bureaucrats think that people ought to eat, as is proposed by the Labour party?
Mr. Maclean : I entirely agree. The more I read about Opposition policy the more convinced I am that if they were in government there would be no food left to eat in this country. They would adopt ridiculous food safety measures.
8. Mr. McGrady : To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what steps he will take to ensure that early payments are made to farmers in respect of hill livestock compensatory allowances in response to the current economic climate.
Mr. McGrady : I thank the Minister for his reply, but is he aware that there is already considerable delay in these payments? As the farming community has suffered a substantial reduction in real income in 1991--to the extent of 17 per cent. of income in the north of Ireland--and that the hill livestock farmer depends very much on such payments at this time of year, will he ensure that these payments and other headage payments are made in accordance with the rules and regulations and thus assist the distraught financial circumstances especially of the small farmer who has been paid scant regard in the House this afternoon?
Mr. Curry : I can certainly give the hon. Gentleman that assurance. We have been paying them in England since 21 February and virtually a third of claims have been met. It is the same in Wales. Almost a third have been met in Northern Ireland and £17.4 million has already been paid out. We cannot pay if farmers do not make the claims. In previous years about 20 per cent. have not claimed until April. If the hon. Gentleman will urge his farmers to ensure that claims are on time, we shall deal with them as soon as humanly possible.
Mr. Amos : Does my hon. Friend accept that the good farmers of Hexham are grateful for his sincere effort to look after the interests of farmers in the less-favoured areas? However, does he also accept that they are worried about two things--first, proposals to put 50p on a gallon of petrol and, secondly, proposals for environment controls which would strangle them to death--proposals made by the Opposition parties?
Mr. Curry : I speak to many farmers--large and small--including some in my hon. Friend's constituency. They are terrified by Labour party proposals to create a great new machine spitting out red tape all over the countryside. Labour's planning controls and proposals for access would be directly contrary to the interests of farmers in the United Kingdom.
Mr. Maclean : We are developing citizens charter principles in various sectors of the Ministry and, as part of that, I am today announcing a comprehensive food safety and consumer protection programme.
Column 435increase in the incidence of food poisoning in the past 10 years. Why do the Government continue to extol the virtues of this obnoxious Gummerburger food culture instead of instituting an independent food standards agency as the Labour Government will do in a few weeks' time?
Mr. Maclean : It used to be that Opposition spokesmen quoted figures that were four years out of date, but the hon. Gentleman depends on statistics that go back 10 years. Let me tell him about the previous 12 months' statistics which show a decrease in salmonella food poisoning and that the Food Safety Act 1990 is working. For the first time in many years the statistics are going down. I note that the first thing that the Labour party would do in my Department, if it came to power, would be to change the name of MAFF to FAFF.
chicken-producing companies such as John Rannoch and Sovereign Chicken in my constituency, which are making it impossible for them to compete with their European counterparts. Will he please take the most urgent steps to correct that, because it is not only deeply damaging to companies in my constituency but harmful to the image of the Community?
Mr. Maclean : We shall do our utmost to ensure that we have a level playing field throughout Europe. If my hon. Friend has any evidence that other countries might not be implementing the regulations as carefully as we are, we shall certainly take action. However, at the same time I must say that we have very high welfare and hygiene standards in this country. That guarantees that the consumer feels safe with our food supply and that is in the best interests of all our chicken producers.
Dr. David Clark : If the Minister claims to be so concerned about the consumer, can he explain why his right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, at the National Farmers Union annual general meeting last month, produced a list of nearly 100 regulations from the Ministry and promised to discuss their relevance and implementation with the farmers? Why does he refuse to meet any groups other than farmers, as he confirmed to me in the House on 17 February? Why does he refuse to discuss the regulations on the welfare of animals in transit with the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals? Why does he refuse to discuss the reduction of salmonella controls with the consumer organisations? Why does he refuse to talk to the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds about licensing to kill birds? It is not the citizens charter that the consumers of this country want ; they want a Ministry of Food and Farming which the incoming Labour Government will introduce.
Mr. Maclean : That is absolute nonsense and it is nonsense that is years out of date. Only last week my right hon. Friend concluded yet another of his quarterly meetings with 15 consumer organisations. Those meetings are held every quarter to discuss issues of food and consumer concern. We have set up the consumer panel and I meet consumers regularly when I have discussions in the Ministry. Never before has the Ministry of Agriculture,
Column 436Fisheries and Food had so many detailed discussions with consumers and consumer organisations. They know that ; it is a pity that the hon. Gentleman does not.
Mrs. Gorman : Knowing my right hon. Friend's concern for birds and particularly for our very valuable poultry industry, will he keep an eye on the latest scare for our "bootiful" turkey industry and ensure that that nonsense about which we are hearing--podo dermatitus--does not turn out to be a load of gobbledegook?