To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will make a further statement on progress made towards the implementation of agricultural stabilisers within the European Community.
As I mentioned earlier, the European Council considered the Commission's stabiliser proposals at its meeting on 4 and 5 December. Progress was made, particularly on cereals, oilseeds and protein crops, but more is needed if agreement is to be reached on all aspects of the future financing negotiations at the next meeting of the European Council on 11 and 12 February.
Can the Minister confirm that the European Commission is considering withdrawing its agricultural stabiliser proposals because of lack of progress? Does the Minister agree that unless decisions are made swiftly on curbing agricultural production, farmers and farm workers will have to operate in a climate of cruel uncertainty and the general public will believe that the problems of surpluses will never be tackled effectively?
No, I do not think that the proposals on stabilisers will be withdrawn. I think that it is important to build on the progress already made. I entirely agree with the point raised by the hon. Lady on the uncertainty that this creates for farmers and farm workers, which is why I am so keen to reach agreement on stabilisers, not only to remove the uncertainty, but to get the surplus production and the associated subsidies that go with them cleared from the system, so that agriculture can have a more stable future.
Will my right hon. Friend exert pressure on the Commission to ensure that no proposals for farm price increases are brought forward in the absence of an agreement on future financing and stabilisers at the European Council?
We shall have to look at the price review in the normal way, and the Commission will bring forward its proposals for that, as is necessary each year. I agree with my hon. Friend that it is important to reach agreement on the stabilisers as quickly as possible, because without them there is a risk of continually increasing surpluses and subsidies, which cannot be in the interests of agriculture. Without that progress, what happens in price reviews is much less important than getting agreement on the new reform.