§ Sir Peter Mills
asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will make a statement on the outcome of the Council of Agriculture Ministers' meeting held in Brussels on 8 to 10 December.
§ Mr. Gummer
I represented the United Kingdom at this meeting, which was chaired by my right hon. Friend the Minister.
The main items before the Council were the Commission's proposals for reform of the support arrangements for milk and beef, intended to tackle the surplus situation in these sectors, and the Commission's proposals for a number of socio-structural measures.
There remain differences of view about the best method of reducing the milk surplus. The key issues still under discussion are the extent of the quota cut which can be made for the year beginning 1 April 1987, whether the whole cut should be permanent or partly achieved through suspension, and the question of the compensation to be offered to farmers affected by these cuts. There remain differences too on the role which weakening the intervention mechanisms should play in the measures to be adopted.
On beef, discussion concentrated on the extent of the weakening of the intervention levels and on the role of a premium scheme, and whether the suckler cow subsidy should be improved.
After the views of member states had been clarified, the United Kingdom Presidency, in close collaboration with the Commission, tabled a paper on milk and beef in an endeavour to make progress. There was a general willingness to work for a positive conclusion, but a number of delegates sought further improvements.
The socio-structural proposals were conceived by the Commission as a means of helping farmers to adapt to changing economic circumstances. Discussion on these focused primarily on the extent to which these measures should reinforce action to reduce surpluses.
The Council discussed each of these three items extensively over three days, and adjourned until Saturday 13 December in order to give the Presidency and Commission the opportunity to reflect on the possibilities for reaching conclusions on these complex issues.
In addition to the existing proposals for devaluations of the green pound and green French franc for beef and sheepmeat, the Commission proposed green rate devaluations for the sheep sector for Greece, and for sheepmeat and structures for Portugal. Discussion on these proposals will also be taken up again when the Council resumes.