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Common Agricultural Policy

Volume 498: debated on Thursday 29 October 2009

5. What recent discussions his Department has had with the European Commission on reform of the common agricultural policy. (296304)

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has ongoing discussions on reform of the common agricultural policy with the Commission both formally and informally, including at regular meetings of the Agriculture Council, the last of which I attended on 19 October. The next phase of negotiations will begin informally next year with the new Agriculture Commissioner.

Previously the Secretary of State has acknowledged the difficulties facing hill farmers in my constituency and elsewhere in the UK, which have not been eased by the implementation of sheep identification tags. Those farmers are deeply alarmed by the DEFRA vision for the future of agriculture. In the context of the recent Calman commission recommendations that Scottish and other devolved Administrations should have a serious input into UK policy making, will he give a pledge that Scottish concerns will be heard before a final British position is taken on CAP reform?

I can certainly give that assurance. We would in no way move forward without consulting all the relevant authorities and organisations. We clearly have our own priorities and negotiating position, which will be mapped out in due course, and they would not ignore such an important sector as the hon. Gentleman mentions.

Will the Minister continue to press for a switch in the CAP from a subsidy for production to measures that benefit the countryside, such as investment in jobs and industry, an enhanced environment and greater access? These are public goods and public money, and we ought to be pursuing them.

My hon. Friend makes an important point. We certainly wish to foster an internationally competitive industry without reliance on subsidy or protection. The Government believe that CAP expenditure under pillar two offers better value for money than pillar one because it rewards farmers for the delivery of public benefits, especially environmental outcomes, as he outlines.

The Commission’s draft reformed CAP is reported to include a third pillar on climate change. Farming must play its part in reducing carbon emissions, but does the Minister agree that Lord Stern’s call for people to give up eating meat was totally irresponsible and damaging to our livestock industry?

It is certainly my belief that that is not quite what Lord Stern said. He made a comment that was lifted out and exaggerated. We certainly believe in a balanced diet, and there are many ways in which emissions of greenhouse gases can be tackled. That is not the position of the Government or the Department, and we will negotiate with the Commission to ensure that its position is as close to ours as possible.

Lord Stern said—and I quote directly from his interview:

“Meat is…wasteful… A vegetarian diet is better.”

Britain’s livestock producers are listening carefully to the Government’s answer. Does the Minister agree with those comments or not?

It is for individual citizens and consumers to decide what they eat, and we support that. We also support the British agricultural industry and our meat producers. Sir Nicholas Stern’s comments must be looked at from the perspective of the whole piece that he wrote, not just one quote or sentence.