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Common Agricultural Policy

Volume 77: debated on Thursday 18 April 1985

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8.

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food whether Her Majesty's Government are prepared to co-operate with the European Economic Community Commission to produce a rationalisation of the common agricultural policy.

I am willing to co-operate with all concerned to ensure that the process of putting the CAP on to a more rational basis is continued.

Does the Minister accept that if the rationalisation plans inevitably lead to reduced financial expenditure, especially in rural upland areas, the Government must have contingency plans to ensure that we do not return to the bad old days in the early 1960s of rural depopulation and unemployment?

Certainly the Community is extremely worried about those matters. I have no doubt that within the areas which the Commission has identified such matters will be of concern. In particular, one of the groups proposed by the Commission is to study agriculture in society—that is, the position of agriculture in the rural economy.

Regarding rationalisation, does my right hon. Friend appreciate that those of his hon. Friends who heard both Lord Peart and the right hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Mr. Silkin) separately introduce expansionist White Papers when they were Ministers of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food are looking to him soon to produce a general strategy document for agriculture in the light of the new restrictionist policy?

At present, when so many uncertainties and matters are in the process of coming to fruition, it would not be appropriate to produce a White Paper of that sort. However, I do not rule that out. I have an open mind about it for the future.

What induced the Minister to stand on its head the expansionist policy of his predecessor?

The answer is simple. In June 1983, within a few weeks of the general election, the European Council meeting in Stuttgart at last decided that the CAP should be brought back to reality and rationality. As a result of those sensible decisions, which should have been taken years earlier—if British advice had been followed they would have been taken years earlier—we have been able to return the CAP to a degree of realism.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the British hops industry, which was strong for 60 years until two years ago, is currently in a state of great anxiety? Will he take steps to ensure that there is a greater degree of rationalisation throughout the European Community regarding hops? Will he pay a further visit to hop growers, as opposed to the Hops Marketing Board, this year?

My hon. Friend may recall that last September, besides visiting the headquarters of the Hops Marketing Board, I visited hops farms and saw the harvesting and processing of hops. I am aware of the current position, which gives rise to many difficulties. As my hon. Friend knows, we have a problem of over-supply at present. I shall most certainly keep my eye on the matter.