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Peter Hain: The business managers are indeed very aware of the issues concerned and will bear in mind the consequences for the business of the House. It is terribly important that we keep our eyes fixed very firmly on the big picture. The people of Northern Ireland overwhelmingly support the Good Friday agreement, they want an end to paramilitary activity, and they want the stability of institutions for which the agreement provided.
Bob Spink (Castle Point): The people of Castle Point have lived for many years with the serious health and social problems caused by the operation of Pitsea tip. Can we have a debate to ensure that proper monitoring and contingency plans are in place to deal with any further problems caused by the operation of that tip and so that we can have an independent risk assessment of the risks associated with the odours and the materials deposited there?
Further to the earlier request for a debate on early-day motion 1466, which relates to GM foods and was raised in a fairly whinging way by the Welsh nationalist spokesman, the hon. Member for Ceredigion (Mr. Thomas), the fact is that it is extremely welcome that the Government have organised the debate that is now taking place, and we should not take anything away from that. However, given that it is a Government-inspired debate and that there is much public anxiety about GM crops, and given the question that my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Joan Ruddock) asked about comments made by people in the American Administration, should not we have a full day's debate here, in Government time?
Peter Hain: Again, I have dealt with the point about GM foods previously, and I acknowledge my hon. Friend's interest in the matter. He referred to whinging Welsh nationalists. The hon. Member for Ceredigion (Mr. Thomas) is a valuable Member of this House, but he should not whinge as much as he does. The chief whinger, the leader of Plaid Cymru, having resigned two months ago, has announced today that he is going to re-stand for election to the leadership that he has just vacated. What a shower.
Mr. Peter Duncan (Galloway and Upper Nithsdale): Will the tax-raising Leader of the House find Government time to debate the future of shipping services in the light of tax-raising Government press release No. 49, which was issued after the Budget? The change to national insurance will create a direct disincentive to employ British staff on ferry services between my constituency and Northern Ireland. Furthermore, it will directly penalise services between Scotland and Northern Ireland in favour of services to the Irish Republic, inasmuch as national insurance contributions will not be payable by staff working in international waters. The change will directly put Scottish jobs at risk and further prejudice ferry traffic on the north channel route. Will he accept the need for a level playing field for British jobs on British ships?
Norman Lamb (North Norfolk): Will the Leader of the House arrange for a statement about the desperate situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo? There is more news this week of an offensive by Rwandan-backed rebels, which could plunge Rwanda and Uganda back into direct confrontation. Could such a statement also deal with the Government's response to the UN panel of experts' report that was published at the beginning of November last year, pointing to the direct link between exploitation of the country's natural
Peter Hain: As the hon. Gentleman knows, the European Union agreed a mission to establish a peacekeeping operation, which is now in the Congo, but the situation is desperate. It is a huge countryvirtually the size of the entire European continentthat has been plunged into successive conflicts. The international community, as manifested in Europe's determination to act with the blessing of the United Nations, must ensure that stability is brought to the country.
Andrew Selous (South-West Bedfordshire): Given that the European constitution will prohibit this House from legislating in relation to agriculture, justice, energy, social policy, economic cohesion, transport, the environment and aspects of public health unless Brussels agrees, does the Leader of the House think that in future it will still be worth being a Member of this House?
Peter Hain: It is interesting that such questions renege on commitments made by previous Conservative Governments to agree to decisions being made at a European level in Britain's interests. I do not recognise any of the threats with which the hon. Gentleman sought to alarm the House in the draft constitution that came out of the European Convention, which I helped to negotiate.
Michael Fabricant (Lichfield): May I echo the calls made by my neighbour, my hon. Friend the Member for Tamworth (Mr. Jenkins), for a debate on the integrity of news reporting by the BBC? The attack on the BBC that was made yesterday by the director of communications is but the tip of the iceberg. There has been constant pressure on the BBC from this Government for the past six years, and it is far greater than any such pressure that was ever exerted by the likes of Norman Tebbit. It is immensely important that the BBC is not only allowed to report fairly and accurately, but is seen to be allowed to do so. Following the attack made by Alastair Campbell yesterday, that is not the case.
Peter Hain: That question comes from a member of a party that complained to the BBC about its local election coverage. [Hon. Members: "Hear, hear!"] Conservative Members agree with that complaint. Alastair Campbell made it perfectly clear yesterday that he of course fully acknowledges the important role of the BBC and its broadcasting responsibilities, and the fact that it generally undertakes that role very well. Nevertheless, he put a series of questions to the BBC. Does it still stand by the allegation that it made on 29 May that Alastair Campbell and/or No. 10 Downing street added in the 45-minute claim? Does it still stand by the allegation made on the same day that he or they did so against the wishes of the intelligence agencies? Does it still stand by the allegation made on that day that both No. 10 and himself, and the intelligence agencies, knew the 45-minute claim to be wrong? Those, and a series of other questions, are very specific points that the BBC has to deal with. It has not answered them yet, and it should do so.
Peter Hain: The hon. Gentleman and his colleagues on the Conservative Benches wish to consign it to the dustbin because they do not want to end cruelty. The Government do want to end cruelty, and this House has voted overwhelmingly to do so. We shall have to await the end of the debate on Monday to see where we stand; I have explained to the House in great detail what will happen thereafter.
Margaret Beckett: With permission, Mr. Speaker, I wish to make a statement on the outcome of the final negotiations on the reform of the common agricultural policy, which concluded in Luxembourg at 6.35 am, UK time. [Laughter.] Yes, quite.
We approached the negotiations with two clear objectives: first, to get the best settlement that we could for UK farmers, consumers, taxpayers and the environment; and, secondly, to get an agreement that could lay the foundations for a successful outcome at the World Trade Organisation negotiations in Mexico later this year.
In pursuit of those objectives, we set negotiating goals: to simplify the CAP, reducing the burden on farmers; to provide for a substantial shift of support from production to a wider range of rural and environmental activities; and to give the European Union a strong negotiating stance in the WTO negotiations, which reach a key point in Cancun in September.
I am happy to say that today's agreement delivers what we wanted, as well as real change. The key points are: breaking the link between farm subsidies and production in order to reconnect farmers to their markets, reduce damaging environmental impacts and reduce bureaucracy, which is at the heart of our approach to sustainable food and farming; cross-compliance to make subsidies dependent on meeting standards in key areas such as the environment and animal health and welfare; reducing support prices for butter and rice, bringing them closer to world prices to the benefit of consumers; and a new financial discipline that will trigger action to reduce subsidies if CAP expenditure looks to be in danger of exceeding the agreed ceilings.
The settlement includes elements that were not on the table in the January package put forward by the European Commissioner. In other words, in some respects it goes beyond those initial proposals. First, national envelopes will allow us to develop targeted schemes to promote sustainable and environmentally friendly farming. Secondly, we have secured a further switch of resources to the second pillar and an earlier start date for modulation. The second pillar funding package that we have secured is more than a third larger than that which was available in the January proposal. For the first time, modulation applies on an EU-wide basis, switching support from production subsidies to targeted support for environmental and rural development objectives across the European Union. Thirdly, we have succeeded in protecting UK farmers from the immediate threat of an unfair settlement as part of the financial discipline process. I will place a detailed summary of the agreement in the Library; I wish Members happy reading.
The most radical and important element in the package is the new single farm payment, which we can use to replace the plethora of existing direct payment schemes such as arable aid, suckler cow premium, beef special premium, slaughter premium, extensification premium and sheep annual payment, to name but a few. Not only will that greatly simplify the bureaucracy
Decoupling is particularly important in the WTO context. This deal enables the EU not only to meet, but to better, the domestic support targets that have been proposed in the WTO negotiations. The reforms should reduce the distortions in world markets that the CAP has caused, and will accordingly contribute to a successful conclusion of the Doha development agenda. I hope that our trading partners will recognise the scale and importance of the change and respond positively to it.
Reaching the agreement required an immense and a united effort. I want especially to thank our dedicated team of officials; my many Cabinet colleagues who actively engaged in support of our discussions, including the Prime Minister; and, of course, our colleagues in the devolved Administrations, who were closely involved throughout. It shows what we can achieve by working constructively with colleagues in the Agriculture Council. I want to pay special tribute to Commissioner Fischler, who showed considerable courage and tenacity in helping to pilot the agreement.
It is hard to overstate the importance of this morning's agreement in transforming the core elements of the common agricultural policy and laying down a new direction for its future evolution. Giorgios Drys, the Greek Minister, who did an excellent job of piloting the Council through the negotiations, said that we needed to get agreement for a new CAP. We have done that.