Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witness (Questions 420-430)



  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 intend—DEFRA intend—establishing 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.

Paddy Tipping

  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 happen?
  (Sir Donald Curry) Yes.

  426. In a sense a major theme of the report is predicated on the £500 million?
  (Sir Donald Curry) Yes.

Mr Simpson

  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 generated—if I can describe them in those terms—industry 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.

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