§ Mr. Latham
asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food whether he will make a statement on the results of his Department, after 13 months of the present Government, in achieving the policy programme which he set it on assuming office.
§ Mr. Peter Walker
The following is a summary of the results in the main policy areas of my Department.
The Government came into office committed to eliminate the competitive disadvantage which our farmers had suffered under the previous Administration as a result of an overvalued green pound and the MCA subsidies on imports. This disadvantage has been eliminated by three green pound devaluations together with the strengthening of the market rate for sterling.
The price of milk has been raised twice to meet the special needs of this sector as a whole.
In negotiations in Brussels, we have pressed for and secured two CAP prices settlements which are consistent with our aim of achieving improvements in the common agricultural policy. We have successfully resisted at the same time a number of proposals which would have 490W been discriminating and damaging to our own industry.
On sheepmeat, we have secured agreement to a common regime which will, when implemented, be highly advantageous to producers while safeguarding consumers through a system of a deficiency payments financed from Community funds.
We have paid attention to the special needs of the hill areas by substantially increasing the assistance they receive. These areas will also benefit from the new suckler cow subsidy and from the sheep meat regime.
I have ensured that the work of the Agricultural Development and Advisory Service is kept in step with the developing needs of the industry, notably through the provision of more specialist advice, a greater emphasis on marketing, an enhanced advisory role in conservation and more concern with micro-computer applications in agriculture.
I have taken a number of initiatives directed towards achieving improvements in marketing. The Government are seeking, in close and continuing consultation with leaders of the agriculture and food and drink industries to improve the performance of British produce both in domestic and overseas markets.
On animal health and welfare, we have made valuable progress in eradicating disease, notably brucellosis, and in maintaining this country's freedom from outbreaks of major epizootic disease such as foot-and-mouth and swine fever. The appointment of the Farm Animal Welfare Council marked a significant step forward in the protection of livestock from unnecessary suffering.
On fisheries, the Government have made the first positive steps towards the settlement of a common fisheries policy after some years of stalemate, and have established the conditions in which a settlement can be reached if there is a will to do so amongst the member States of the European Community.
I have taken action to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the Ministry's work. We are reducing by up to 400 staff and £2 million a year the need for manpower and resources to administer the capital grant schemes. This will release more ADAS time for advisory 491W work. We have announced a reorganisation of our regional administration which should save a further 400 staff.