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Baroness Hooper: My Lords, does the Minister agree that agricultural subsidies will be of prime importance at the forthcoming ministerial meeting? That issue will affect developing countries, to which she referred, and it is also an issue within which environmental and social issues can be embraced.
Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I certainly agree that agriculture will be of prime importance in the trade round; that matter is raised with the UK by many developing countries, and our friends in the USA have a great deal to say to us on the subject. Several members of the Cairns Group have also been robust in the arguments that they put to us. We fully support further liberalisation of agricultural markets in order to sustain development and economic world-wide growth. We shall argue robustly in relation to all of the issues that we have often discussed in your Lordships' House, particularly with regard to the common agricultural policy. We shall do that through the EU. I am sure that that, too, will take much time, effort and expertise in the coming days.
Baroness Byford: My Lords, perhaps I may press the Minister a little further? She mentioned the importance of agricultural discussions in the next round of the WTO. Does she accept that it is hugely important that all governmentswhether they are developing governments or established governments in the widest sensespeak the same language? A current problem is that the United States accuses the EU of subsidy, but the Americans and some other countries have a very effective safety valve that they apply themselves. Surely it is high time that we all spoke a common language.
Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I agree. I wish it were as easy as declaring that we should all speak the same language and that everyone should sit around a negotiating table and agree that, but I believe that it will be a great deal more difficult than that. To those who doubt the value of this trade round I say that if this trade round does not take place we will not have even the opportunity to speak the same language on agriculture. While I accept the enormous range of difficulties that all noble Lords are able to adducehaving worked on this for a number of months I am able to adduce them myselfI believe that the opportunity to launch a new trade round is the best shot we are likely to have at sorting out some of these complex issues, not least the agricultural ones.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Whitty): My Lords, developing an environmental regulatory framework for agriculture has been, and will continue to be, necessary. However, we are working to ensure that any regulation should be targeted so that it achieves the necessary safeguards while allowing the maximum flexibility and imposing the minimum burden on farmers and on landowners.
Baroness Byford: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that response. I remind the House of my family's farming interest. Can the Minister tell the House how many former MAFF personnel were moved from work on direct consultation and implementation to work associated with the foot and mouth outbreak? How many have been moved back and to what timetable are they working? Can the Minister also quantify the effect that the foot and mouth outbreak has had on the progress of the four environmental directives that are awaiting implementation and a further three that are still being discussed?
Lord Whitty: My Lords, I cannot tell the noble Baroness the precise number of staff who have been moved into and out of work in relation to the foot and mouth epidemic. It is clear that some work has been delayed as a result of the transfer of staff to duties connected with the foot and mouth outbreak. The bulk of those are now back in place.
On the directives, in some cases we are under time pressures from Europe. Therefore, work in those areas has been less affected than work in other areas. I am sure that the noble Baroness will agree with me that how we deliver regulation, as distinct from creating any new regulations, should now be addressed.
Lord Whitty: My Lords, I have considerable sympathy with that objective. It is clear that frequently farmers regard the number of agencies with which they deal as a serious burden, as distinct from the fact that they recognise that the regulations themselves are necessary. Within DEFRA we have attempted to rationalise all the regulations and regulatory activity relating to IACS payments. The Environment Agency is looking at bringing together some of the approaches
Lord Campbell-Savours: My Lords, some of the officials referred to by the noble Baroness were moved out of their jobs because they were simply incompetent. Why should they be moved back into the same posts?
Lord Whitty: My Lords, I do not believe that the people to whom the noble Baroness referredthose working on improving the regulationscould possibly fall within that category. There may be instances when people have been moved to priority jobs, simply because the pressure on all staff in the department has been so substantial during the foot and mouth epidemic that their previous work had to be reduced in priority. No implication of competence or incompetence was involved in those moves.
Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: My Lords, Recommendation 6 suggests that money should be moved out of direct subsidy and into environmental incentives to a much greater degree. Can the Minister tell the House to what extent that has happened over the past year and to what extent he expects it to happen over the next year, having regard to the current incredibly low level of only 7 per cent towards environmental incentives?
Lord Whitty: My Lords, the noble Baroness is addressing the issue of the common agricultural policy payments rather than what happens under regulation. In relation to the payments for the agri-environmental schemes, she is correct. We are talking about approximately 7 per cent, which is a significant improvement on the previous year. It will grow more rapidly to roughly double that size over the next two or three years.
Of course, there are other mechanisms for trying to transfer money from direct production subsidy into environmental and broader rural development issues. We are starting to engage in modulation, which will grow as a proportion of the direct production subsidies in those regimes. Moreover, in the medium term one of our main priorities, in the renegotiation of the CAP, is that we shift expenditure from the first pillarproduction-related subsidiesinto the second pillar to deal with those wider issues. However, that will take place in the longer term and will depend upon the mid-year review and eventually the post-2006 form of the common agricultural policy.
Moved, That the Baroness Williams of Crosby be appointed a member of the following Committees, in the place of the Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank: House of Lords' Offices, Liaison, Privileges, Procedure of the House and Selection.(The Chairman of Committees.)