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We want the CAP health check negotiations this year to play an important part in the reform process by reducing regulatory burdens and giving farmers greater control over their business decisions; cutting further the trade and market-distorting nature of the CAP; and directing public spending more towards delivery of targeted public benefits, particularly environmental ones. The Commission is due to publish its legislative proposals for the health check on 20 May. The noble Lord asked me about what would happen next. The proposals are due on that day. The Government will run a full consultation and the legislative proposals will be subject to the usual domestic scrutiny procedures.
Lord Taylor of Holbeach: Does that mean that we will have a debate on the draft report in this House, or are we to wait until the ideas are developed into legislation and then presented to us with very little chance of our changing it? I think that the House would want the opportunity to debate the issue in full.
Lord Bach: The noble Lord knows what I am going to say; he is experienced enough to know that will be a matter for the usual channels to decide. I am sure he will be a powerful voice in that discussion.
For all the reasons that I have set outon which, in their attitude to CAP reform, I hope to gain consensus or fellow-feeling around the CommitteeI do not believe that a statement as asked for in Amendment No. 41A would add anything new.
I want to sit down because we have other important business to attend to. However, these are important matters, and the noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch, has been waiting a long time for what I am about to say. I am going to tell him who is on our side, or closer to our view, rather than those who are not, so he will have to work it out for himself. As well as us, at least eight other countries in the EU are what we now describe as reform-minded. They are Sweden, Denmark, the Netherlands, Germany, Estonia, Latvia, the Czech Republic and Malta. It is important to have allies in this important enterprise.
Even among those who are not so enthusiastic for CAP reform, we believe there is some recognition now that further reform is inevitable and that the budget
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Finally, in a Financial Times article today my right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer is quoted calling for an end to direct support for European farmers and the abolition of all measures that keep farm prices above world market levels. The noble Lord, Lord Stoddart of Swindon, was kind enough to commend the comments that were quoted at any rate. I think that that shows quite clearly that the Government mean business. But as far as the Lisbon treaty is concernedand I have to keep reminding myself that that is what we are debating in this HouseI would invite the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment.
Baroness Byford: I would welcome the Ministers response on this section in the Bill. As a former Defra Minister, he knows very well what goes on in discussions in the channels across the water. The countries that he named as sympathetic, or as sharing similar aspirations to ours, did not include France. France clearly has a very different view on protecting its farming and agricultural industry, or it certainly did in years past. How does the Minister think the European Parliament will overcome that particular problem? The representatives there will be equally difficult and will rightly be fighting for their own farmers. That is not for us because we have gone down a different route. However, France is a big player among the other countries.
I apologise to Members of the Committee; as I have not been participating in the debates I have not heard the earlier discussions on fisheries. One of the problems with the fisheries policy is that, although there has been review after review, every time a committee in this House or the other place comes up with recommendation, nothing happens, or at least nothing successful. So we still have loads of discards. Is the Minister confident that the proposals in the treaty will achieve this, or will we continue to go down that particular route? It is a very unsatisfactory route and has not improved much over the years. There is still abuse out there and not much being held to account.
Baroness Byford: This is very relevant. My next question relates to the draft Marine Bill which will soon be before us. Will the European Parliament be able to override that legislation or have any say on it? Will it be a purely UK matter? It refers to waters around our own territory, to the devolved Administration in Scotland in the 12-mile limit and to the 200 nautical-mile limit. The European Parliament may well have a view in the longer term. What is the Governments view? Has the issue been considered? Can the Government give us any better assurance than the Minister has been able to give us already?
In his last comments to us, the Minister told us that the health check, which is in progress at the moment, will not bring any immediate budgetary reductions.
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Baroness Byford: I am sorry that I am boring those on the Liberal Benches. I can only apologise, but these are important issues. The last issue that I want to raise is food security. I thought that Members on those Benches were interested in that. What confidence does the Minister have that the new arrangements will allow each of the member countries to be much freer than we have been in the past? We talked about the health check, but agriculture must compete in a world market, and I seek reassurance that the Government appreciateI hope they have lobbied strongly enoughthat the new arrangements will give us greater freedom. Those are my main issues, and I apologise if I have taken too much time. There are plenty more issues, but that is enough for tonight.
Lord Bach: It is a pleasure to debate again with the noble Baroness, who has great expertise in and knowledge of agricultural and farming matters. I shall answer her questions very briefly; I think that the Committee may want to move on. We do think that the new measures will help. How can one ever be sure? We do, however, think that they will. Co-decision, on balance, is certainly a good move and may help to break what has obviously been an unsatisfactory position until now. I can tell the noble Baroness that, as the Marine Bill is national legislation, it will have nothing whatever to do with the European Union. On the health check, I said that it would not bring budgetary reductions. We will have to wait until the next financial perspective for substantial budgetary reductions to show themselves, but it is very important that the review in 2008-09 shows the way towards them. The negotiations that will begin perhaps a year or two after that leading up to 2013 will, we hope, lead to the reductions that we all think are necessary.
Lord Lamont of Lerwick: I have a question for the Minister that is not so much about agriculture as about his constitutional argument. He is saying that if the European Parliament were more involved, his best guess is that that would result in a more realistic attitude to reform of the CAP. He is saying that, if he is right, that will happen now. He is proposingthis goes into other areas and is a very important principle that we will debate elsewhere in our proceedings on the Billan increase in the powers of the European Parliament, and he is justifying it in this debate purely on the political outcome that it will have now and not on its merits per se. That is one of the dangers. These irreversible changes are made because they are to our advantage now, regardless of whether they will be to our advantage in the long term. That is one of the biggest issues in the whole debate on the whole treaty.
Lord Bach: Briefly, there may be advantages to us in what we as a country want from the CAP in the future as a result of co-decision. I started my speechI certainly intended toby saying that the European Parliament is a democratic institution. It represents by
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Lord Taylor of Holbeach: This has been a very useful area of debate on the Bill. It has certainly been wide-ranging. The noble Lord, Lord Hannay, challenged the relevance of some of the contributions, but that is surely the point.
If the changes in decision-making do not improve the operation of the CAP, noble Lords are right to point this out. It is interesting that the Minister has adopted a wait-and-seea sort of hope-over-experience policy. My noble friend Lord Lamont had it right. This issue stretches right across our relationship here, in this Westminster Parliament, with European institutions.
It is interesting that, in our discussion about a subject on which there is a large degree of consensus in the Committee, I have not heard a single noble Lord say that the common agricultural policy is underregulated. I have not heard a single noble Lord say that it is spending too little. We are all agreed that it desperately needs reform. When I asked about the role of this House and the debate that we might have on the health check, I got, quite rightly, a technically correct answer. However, when the Lord President introduced the Bill at Second Reading, she mentionedI am sure that I did not mishearthat the role of national parliaments would be enhanced through the operation of this treaty. I hope that I am correct in that. If that is the case, why is it that we find ourselves unable to have much influence over this important area of policy?
That is why these amendments are important. The Westminster Parliament, both this House and the other place, has a role to play. I ask the Minister: what is the role of this House and the other place in CAP reform? Perhaps he might answer that question before I determine the future of my amendments.
Lord Bach: Their scrutiny role, as far as the whole EU is concerned, is well known. Both Houses have an important scrutiny role. No doubt the views expressed both in this House and in another place on the issues that we have been debating tonight are listened to carefully by those in the Commission, by Ministers who represent this country on the Council of Ministers and, I am sure, by Members of the European Parliament. The role of national parliaments regarding the European Union is well set out and works pretty effectively as far as the UK is concerned.
Lord Taylor of Holbeach: That describes to my mind a spectator at a football match commenting on the skill of the referee in determining whether someone is offside. The truth is that, when it comes to decision-making, we have little or no authority on these matters. The reason why the CAP has failed or got itself into such a mess is simply that there is too little democratic influence on it. We were right to table these amendments. There is a role for Westminster
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The noble Lord said: I rise to move Amendment No. 53 and to speak to the remaining amendments in that line and to Amendments Nos. 57 and 59 to 61 in the next line. Under Maastrichtand some of your Lordships may be experiencing a certain nostalgia for the comparative clarity of that treaty
Lord Pearson of Rannoch: I am sorry to interrupt but, according to my list of groupings, we have missed out the whole group of amendments starting with Amendment No. 46, which is on borders and asylum. I am surprised.
The Lord President of the Council (Baroness Ashton of Upholland): It is not a question of agreeing; it is for the mover to decide whether amendments should be moved. The noble Lords, Lord Kingsland and Lord Hunt, in responding to the question from the Chairman of Committees, said that they were not moved. The Committee allowed that to happen and we are now on Amendment No. 53. As the noble Lord, Lord Kingsland, implied, we will go through to Amendment No. 61 and take two groups together.
Lord Pearson of Rannoch: It is possible for other noble Lords to move amendments but I do not intend to do so on this occasion. I am surprised, however, because I thought that we were all consulting one another on the process of these debates and keeping in touch. There is no point in involving the Liberal Democrats because they have no amendments. However, the rest of us are keeping in touch on timing and the order in which we take these matters, but no one informed me that we were going to leave out
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Baroness Ashton of Upholland: The noble Lord should not look at me. What happenedas I shall explain to the noble Lord if he sits downis that, when the amendments were called by the Chairman of Committees, the words not moved were said on the Front Bench opposite. At that point it was absolutely in order for the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, to leap to his feet and seek to move them. He did not do so. I was merely saying, by way of explanation, where I thought that we had got to. It was not a case of discussions going on; it was simply a case of where we had got to. The noble Lord can, of course, retable the amendments on Report. But that is what happened. I am merely giving him a factual explanation, nothing more.
Lord Pearson of Rannoch: This particular frog leapt with such speed that I was caught on the wrong leg and was not able to move the amendment in time. I merely put it down as a marker. I do not want to delay the Committee any longer, but if erstwhile noble friends on the Conservative Front Benchor, indeed, the government Benchare going to play this kind of trick in future, the rest of us would like to be informed. The Liberals are irrelevant because they have no amendments. I have nothing more to say on the group of amendments that have not been moved.
Lord Pearson of Rannoch: I did not suggest that they were part of the Government. I merely said that the main parts of the Committee are trying to get the Committee stage through in an expeditious manner so that we can cover all the areas in a time that suits the Governments wider programme and so on. The leaving out of a whole group of amendments on no less a subject than borders and asylum came as a surprise.
Baroness Ashton of Upholland: Let me be very clear: the Government do not control the business in that sense. The noble Lord is correct in saying that the Opposition have put down amendments. However, they have chosen not to move them and to regroup; it
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Lord Tomlinson: I warn my noble friend on the Front Bench that, if she goes out of her way to placate the noble Lord opposite for being so dozy that he does not hear what is going on when six amendments are not moved, she will be alienating me again.
Lord Kingsland: Having just made some observations about the relative clarity of the Maastricht treaty, I had assumed that the noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch, had leapt to his feet to contest that proposition. In that sense I was rather relieved to find that he was on an entirely different point.
Lord Pearson of Rannoch: I am sorry, but I just point out that we removed Amendment No. 33 completely from the Marshalled List this evening and we agreed that with everyone in the spirit of what we are all trying to achieve. The noble Lords point is not well made but he had better carry on with what he is doing now, I suppose.
Lord Kingsland: It has just been drawn to my attention by noble friends on the Front Bench that Amendment No. 55 has not yet been called; and if the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, glances at his text, he will see that it partially covers the area of immigration. So the noble Lords opportunity to dilate on this matter tonight, should he so wish, is not wholly undermined.
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