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Departmental Achievements

Volume 116: debated on Friday 15 May 1987

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asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what are the principal achievements of his Department since 1983.

Further to the answer given to my hon. Friend the Member for Rugby and Kenilworth (Mr. Pawsey) on 3 April 1985, my Department has been responsible for, or played its part in, the following achievements.Significant reforms of the common agricultural policy have been agreed and implemented, which will help to make it more responsive to market forces, contain surplus production and limit excessive expenditure. The measures agreed include reductions in support price levels in the three years 1984 to 1986 with estimated savings of 780 mecu (£565 million) over two years resulting from the 1986 price fixing.This has contributed to a low rate of increase in food prices. Since May 1983, the annual rate of increase in the food component of the retail prices index (RPI) has been 4·1 per cent; the current annual rate is 3·3 per cent.Notable among the reforms made so far to the CA P were those achieved in the beef and dairy sectors in December 1986, under the United Kingdom presidency of the Council of Agriculture Ministers. This included further measures to restrict dairy production, but with generous compensation to minimise disruption to the industry, and a general tightening of the quota system. The United Kingdom secured retention of the formula B arrangements which provide much needed flexibility in the quota system. The package also included measures restricting access to intervention, restoring it to its original safety-net role whilst at the same time ensuring the stability of the market, as well as agreement for an action programme to clear existing stocks.The Council also agreed a substantial reform of the beef regime. Intervention purchasing of beef was ma de less readily available and buying-in prices were reduced to a level closer to and directly influenced by Community market prices. The beef variable premium scheme was extended, unchanged, for the duration of the reform.The agreements on milk and beef, including the programme for disposal of butter stocks, will reduce Community expenditure by some 1,750 mecu (£1,268 million) in the period 1987 to 1989.

Following the introduction of milk quotas in 1984 we were able to introduce arrangements to restore the quota received by producers with less than 200,000 litres of quota to their pre-quota level. We also made direct compensation payments in 1984–85 and 1985–86 to alleviate the effect of the milk co-responsibility levy on small scale producers.

The Agriculture Council in March 1987 agreed a package of socio-structural measures designed to red uce production of surplus commodities and help farmers to adapt to changes in agricultural policy without damaging the countryside. The package provides for schemes to reduce surplus production by encouraging conversion to alternative crops and more extensive production of certain surplus products, including cereals, which will be achieved partly by setting aside land.

The package also provides for Community funding of environmentally sensitive areas, in which farmers may be offered incentives to farm in traditional ways to maintain valuable landscapes and wildlife habitats. This is a concept pioneered by the United Kingdom, and marks the beginning of a more integrated approach to the countryside in the Community at large.

Within the United Kingdom the first round of ESAs have been designated. The new scheme—which in England covers the Broads, the Pennine dales, the Somerset levels and moors, the South downs and West Penwith—opened to applications in these areas on 1 March 1987, and the response from farmers has been encouraging.

The agriculture improvement scheme which we introduced in 1 October 1985 continues our policy of encouraging on-farm investment. Under this scheme a wide range of capital grants is available including, for the first time, grants for diversification into tourism and crafts (in the less favoued areas) and grant premia for young farmers. The highest rates of grant are available for environmentally beneficial improvements, special encouragement is also given to orchard replanting and glasshouse replacement. Higher rates of grant are offered on nearly 1·8 million hectares in the less favoured areas in England of which nearly 400,000 were brought in when the LFAs were extended in 1984.

In February this year I announced a package of new measures, which will cost £25 million a year when fully operational, to help the industry to adjust to changing circumstances. These included a new farm woodland scheme, some further expansion of traditional forestry particularly on better quality land, a substantial extension of our programme for environmentally sensitive areas, new grants for farm diversification and more emphasis on novel crops and livestock in the research and development programme.

The Government followed this up on 10 March by publishing a package of documents entitled "Farming and Rural Enterprise". These explained the Government's policies for agriculture, including the new initiatives, and for encouraging enterprise and development in rural areas.

The adoption of section 17 of the Agriculture Act 1986 placed a duty on Agriculture Ministers to take account of wider environmental and socio-economic objectives in determining agricultural policy, and so gave expression to my Department's commitment to the integration of environmental and agricultural policies.

My Department was responsible for initiating the farm and countryside initiative, which was launched in February 1986 in conjunction with the Departments of the Environment and Employment and with statutory agencies involved in the countryside. To date over 100 projects have been approved involving considerably in excess of 2,000 community programme places.

We took special action to help livestock producers most seriously affected by the bad summer weather in 1985 and paid out a total of £16·9 million in exceptional weather aid to about 60,000 farmers.

In the animal welfare field we have set up the independent Farm Animal Welfare Council, which has given us valuable advice on all aspects of the subject. We have introduced legislation to protect welfare at slaughter and to prevent unnecessary mutilations on the farm. We have also produced new welfare codes for cattle, pigs, poultry and rabbits. We have announced a major rationalisation of the legislation on welfare in transit and a ban on the veal crate system of calf rearing. Internationally we have supported the adoption of European directives on transport and battery cages.

We have overhauled the legislation covering cattle breeding. We will be abolishing controls over the livestock quality of dairy and beef bulls as they have now served their purpose.

We are in the process of putting in place new controls over medicated animal feedingstuffs in full consultation with the industry. This will implement both EC legislation and powers taken in the Animal Health and Welfare Act 1984.

My Department's policy in relation to the control of badger-borne bovine tuberculosis was reviewed by a committee under the chairmanship of Professor Dunnet. Its recommendations are being implemented. The scale of badger control operations has thus been reduced with a reduction in the number of badgers being slaughtered.

In collaboration with the other public sector sponsors of research and development we have established the Priorities Board for Research and Development in Agriculture and Food to advise on priorities between sectors in the allocation of resources. We have also encouraged the industry to play a larger role in funding work from which it derives a benefit.

In 1983 we established Food From Britain to improve the marketing of our food and drink. We provided £14 million pump priming money over its first five years.

In July 1986, we set up a Horticultural Development Council to commission R & D in horticulture on the industry's behalf. This followed a poll in which growers voted two to one in favour of such a council.

In July 1986 we reached agreement with the Milk Marketing Board and the Dairy Trade Federation on arrangements designed to strengthen competition in the dairy industry, to ensure fair competition among all buyers of milk, to clarify the separation of Dairy Crest Foods from the Milk Marketing Board and to reinforce the Government's supervisory role in ensuring compliance with Community and domestic legislation.

We have reorganised the Agricultural Development and Advisory Service (ADAS) to improve its efficiency and competitiveness and to help provide a more integrated service to the agricultural industry. In particular the new arrangements will allow farmers and other major interest groups to obtain advice across a range of technical disciplines by contacting a single service within ADAS rater than more than one service as might have been the case previously. Powers have also been taken in the Agriculture Act 1986 to extend the range of matters on which ADAS can provide advisory services and to allow charges to be made for such services, thus enabling farmers and other customers for ADAS services to influence directly the range and type of services provided.

The development of efficient and competitive food and drinks industries has been complemented by a comprehensive range of legislation controlling the safety, quality and labelling of food. Principal achievements in this field include the Food Labelling Regulations 1984 which implement a European Community directive to provide greater information on food labels so that consumers can make more informed choices when selecting foods. We have also revised and updated regulations relating to bread and flour and meat products and spreadable fish products.

In addition we have responded to the report of the Committee on Medical Aspects of Food Policy (COMA) on diet and cardiovascular disease by circulating for public comment detailed proposals for the fat content labelling of foods. We have also circulated for comment separate draft guidelines for voluntary nutrition labelling.

We have increased the resource devoted to scientific surveillance of the food chain. Three new working parties have been established on organic and environmental contaminants, nutrients and radioactivity in food.

We set in hand swift and comprehensive testing of food supplies following the Chernobyl accident in 1986 in order to ensure the safety of all food consumed by the British public. Duplicate diet surveys have provided direct confirmation of this even in those areas where deposition was greatest.

The Food and Environment Protection Act 1985 has done useful service in controlling the movement and slaughter of sheep from upland areas contaminated by radioactivity from the Chernobyl disaster. Part II has introduced improved controls over the disposal of waste at sea. Under part III the sale, supply and use of pesticides were brought under statutory control by the Control of Pesticides Regulations on 6 October 1986, and pesticide advertising from 1 January 1987. These controls will extend to antifouling paints from 1 July 1987.

Together with the Department of the Environment, my Department has further improved controls over the amount of radioactive waste which may be disharged to sea by British Nucelar Fuels' Sellafield plant, through the introduction of a revised discharge authorisation which came into effect on 1 July 1986.

Further advances have been made in strengthening and consolidating the common fisheries policy (CFP). Under the United Kingdom presidency of the Fisheries Council from July to December 1986 we secured the full-scale revision of the regulation on technical conservation measures. Agreement was reached on a staged increase in the minimum mesh size for the North sea to 90 mm by 1989, on retention of the mesh size derogation for vessels below 300 bhp fishing for sole, on improvements in the rules governing beam trawling within the 12-mile inshore zone including the reintroduction of an 8 m limit aggregate beam length and on the maintenance of the key restrictions on industrial fisheries.

Substantial improvements were also made under the recent United Kingdom presidency to the Community's control and enforcement arrangements, including increased powers for Community inspectors, tighter control of over-fishing and, for the first time, we have established the principle that a member state which overfishes its national quota to the extent that other member states are prevented from fully taking theirs, will now be required to compensate the disadvantaged member states, thus providing a real incentive not to over-fish.

A new regulation on structural policy for the Community fleet, to last for 10 years, was agreed at the Fisheries Council on 3–4 December and provides measures for vessel construction and modernisation, development of aquaculture, adjustment of capacity, modernisation of port facilities and fish promotion. The Community financial provision until 1991 is 800 mecu (£500 million).

In each of the last three years we have managed to secure agreement on the TACs and quotas for the year ahead before the actual start of the fishing year and in 1986, under the United Kingdom presidency we also negotiated a long-term agreement with Norway on the share out of North sea herring, an issue which has caused major problems in the past.

The Sea Fish Industry Authority's five-year sea fish industry development programme (1984–89) is promoting the consumption and marketing of fish. The Government have already paid £8 million towards the first three years of this programme and a further £4 million has now been allocated for the final two years.

We have brought in important new measures to attack trade in illegally caught salmon in the Salmon Act 1986.

We have strengthened the machinery for preventing and controlling fish and shellfish diseases through the Diseases of Fish Act 1983 and subsequent orders.

Since the introduction of the Government's policy on deregulation, my Department has sought to reduce unnecessary burdens on the industries for which I am responsible whenever possible. Close links are maintained with the representatives of those industries.

All of these policies have been carried out while achieving a further reduction of Ministry staff.