Skip to main content

Departmental Achievements

Volume 76: debated on Wednesday 3 April 1985

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will list his Department's principal achievements since 1979.

Further to the answers given to my hon. Friends the Members for Welwyn, Hatfield (Mr. Murphy) on 17 May 1984, and for Mid-Staffordshire (Mr. Heddle) on 31 October 1984, my Department has been responsible for, or played its part in, the following achievements.At the Dublin summit in December 1984 the Community adopted a text on budgetary discipline based on the agreement reached at Fontainebleau in June. This included a financial guideline for agriculture specifying that net expenditure on agricultural markets should, from 1986, grow less fast than the rate of growth of own resources of the Community.The Council in February 1985 agreed wide-ranging measures to reform the Community's wine regime, by introducing a guarantee threshold to curb surplus production, by encouraging winegrowers to grub up vineyards, and by a restrictive price policy for as long as the surplus remained.The Community reached agreement earlier this month on a new agricultural structures regulation which will govern member states' farm investment programmes. The text as finally adopted clearly reflects our concern to continue to exclude wasteful and discriminatory items, to control grant-aid to capital expenditure which may add to surplus products and to ensure that agricultural development takes account of environmental needs. In particular, the Council accepted our proposal that member states should be authorised to designate environmentally sensitive areas in which farmers may be offered incentives to maintain valuable landscapes and wildlife habitats.In Febuary 1985 we successfully obtained agreement in the Council of Ministers on additional measures to simplify the application of the milk supplementary levy arrangements, including a provision to prevent them from operating as an artificial constraint on those dairy producers with mixed businesses selling milk to the milk marketing boards and also marketing their own milk directly for consumption.Statutory control over the price of liquid milk in England, Wales and Northern Ireland ended on 31 December 1984, a year ahead of our target date. Controls had already ended in Scotland.I have brought forward the Food and Environment Protection Bill, which will provide for greater protection of the public and the environment in three main areas. First, it will provide statutory backing for measures intended to protect the public from food affected by incidents involving a release of harmful substances. Secondly, it will provide for improved controls over the dumping of wastes at sea. Thirdly, it will introduce statutory controls on the supply and use of pesticides with a view to achieving a higher level of safety for health and the environment.We have continued to advise and encourage farmers to take reasonable measures to ensure that farm practices do not result in pollution. This has recently been strengthened by the publication of a code of good agricultural practice, which provides advice to farmers on ways to minimise the risk of pollution of water from the use of fertilisers, manures, farm waste, silage and pesticides.The Environment Co-ordination Unit established in July 1984 continues to strengthen links within the Ministry to ensure a closely integrated approach to environmental issues.The higher rates of grants for hedges, shelter belts and traditional walls are now payable in the lowlands as well as in the less favoured areas. We are also providing half the cost of an experimental grazing scheme designed to help safeguard the unique landscape of the Broads.We have recently announced proposals in response to the recommendations of the report of a panel of the Committee on Medical Aspects on Food Policy on diet and cardiovascular disease published last year. Details were given in my reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Devon, West (Sir P. Mills) on 12 March 1985. Draft guidelines for voluntary full nutrition labelling of foods were issued for comment on 27 March.My Department has participated actively in efforts to increase exports of food and agricultural products and of associated inputs and technology.Between May 1979 and February this year the average annual rate of increase in the food prices index has been 7·0 per cent. This is again below the increase for all items in the retail price, index of 9·3 per cent. The current annual rate of increase in the Food Price Index is 3·5 per cent.In January 1985 hill livestock compensatory allowances were introduced, at rates of £22·25 per eligible cow and £2·12 per eligible ewe, in the United Kingdom's "disadvantaged" areas (that is those marginal land areas which were given less favoured area status for the first time in February 1984).On 1 January 1985 the Community became a member of the International Sugar Agreement 1984.We have enacted legislation to give effect to revised support arrangements for potatoes, which should reduce the call on public funds in the longer term.We have continued to protect farmers and growers from the introduction of non-established plant pests and diseases into the United Kingdom.We have issued a Green Paper reviewing the long-standing arrangements for financing administration of land drainage, flood prevention and coast protection and proposing changes.Together with DoE we have issued notes of guidance to drainage authorities regarding their environmental and conservation responsibilities under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 and are now undertaking a strengthening of those Guidelines.In the field of animal welfare we have pressed for the introduction of Community standards for laying hens in battery cages and have continued to support the work of the standing committee of the European convention on farm animal welfare.At the beginning of this year we introduced new, permanent arrangements for the sale of certain veterinary drugs to farmers through agricultural merchants. These arrangements will safeguard the farmers' traditional source of supply whilst improving the standards of distribution and service for these products.In 1983 we began a complete overhaul of the legislation controlling animal breeding. New powers were taken in the Animal Health and Welfare Act 1984 and within the last two months proposals for revised controls over the animal health and livestock quality aspects of the artificial insemination of cattle have been issued for comment.We concluded the first full year of the effective operation of the revised common fisheries policy by reaching agreement in December last on a complete package of total allowable catches and quotas for 1985, involving significant increases in the fishing opportunities available to our industry, particularly in the North sea.Community log books and landing declarations, for which we have been pressing for some time, have now been issued throughout the Community and will be in force from 1 April.To assist the control of fish and shellfish diseases, we have brought into operation the Diseases of Fish Act 1983.We were the first member state to implement the Community fisheries structures package through the Fishing Vessels (Financial Assistance) Scheme 1983 which provides grants for the decommissioning and laying-up of vessels, exploratory voyages and joint ventures — together with aids for building and modernising vessels. These measures, which came into effect on 1 January 1984, will enable the fleet to adapt to the available fishing opportunities.Together with the Departments of the Environment and of Transport my officials played a full and constructive part in the North sea conference on marine pollution held in Bremen in the autumn of 1984. At the conference the validity of the United Kingdom's science-based approach to environmental protection was acknowledged with the result that sea dumping will continue to be available for disposal of certain categories of waste under strict safeguards.My Department's fisheries research effort has been rationalised. In particular, increased resources have been allocated to the protection of the aquatic environment duties which include the commissioning of a new research vessel. At the same time, and even greater commercial orientation has been given to the work of the Torry research station.All of these policies have been carried out while achieving a further reduction in Ministry staff.