HC Deb 27 October 1995 vol 264 cc839-40W
Mrs. Currie

To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what was the outcome of the Agriculture Council held in Luxembourg on 24 and 25 October; and if he will make a statement. [40632]

Mr. Douglas Hogg

The Council adopted by qualified majority an amended Commission proposal enabling member states to pay national aids, under defined conditions, to farmers who had experienced considerable income losses as a result of significant currency depreciation in other member states. The original proposal was opposed by the United Kingdom, Italy and Sweden—comprising 24 votes—which meant it could not be adopted if a member state invoked the Council decision reflecting the agreement reached at Ioannina in Greece on 27 March 1994. I invoked this decision, thereby requiring the Council to seek a basis for agreement involving at least 65 votes, that is with fewer than 23 votes opposing or abstaining. As a consequence of this, the proposal was amended, in particular to require aid payments to be reduced or cancelled if currency depreciations were subsequently reversed. Although this was a significant and welcome improvement, it went less far than I would have liked. I therefore abstained on the vote. Italy voted against and Sweden in favour.

The Council also discussed reform of the rice regime and held a first discussion of the Commission's proposal to reform the fruit and vegetables regime. On the latter, I welcomed the proposed steps towards reducing the role of intervention and urged the Council to commit itself to eventual abolition of intervention in this sector. I stressed the importance of focusing support on a wider range of organisations than the narrowly defined traditional producer co-operatives proposed by the Commission.

Under other business, I expressed concern about the Commission's decision to reduce malt exports refunds and effectively shorten the period for which export certificates were valid. Several other Ministers supported. The Commissioner undertook to reflect and if necessary adjust the measures in the light of experience.

I also pressed the Commission to retain provision for guaranteed set-aside, so that the important environmental benefits of these arrangements could be preserved. I argued that any proposal setting limits of nitrate in lettuce must reflect the scientific advice. I drew attention to the lack of any health risk to UK consumers, the need to promote consumption of vegetables and the devastating effect which unduly restrictive rules would have on the UK glasshouse industry. I therefore argued that there was no justification for the setting of such limits.