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Agriculture: Common Agricultural Policy

Volume 747: debated on Tuesday 30 July 2013

Question

Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what progress is being made on greening the common agricultural policy.

My Lords, agreement on common agricultural policy reform was reached in June at both the Agriculture Council and in the European Parliament. As part of the deal, from 2015, 30% of Pillar 1 farm subsidies will be dependent upon a series of greening practices being carried out on farms. We shall be working in the coming months to devise a greening policy for England. At the same time, we are making plans for the new rural development programme from 2015. I should declare an interest as a beneficiary under the current CAP.

My Lords, the progress made on the CAP is welcome, though not as radical as some people will allege. The increased requirements for environmental compliance by farmers who are getting the single payments are particularly welcome. The proposals for transferring more money from Pillar 1 to rural development, including environmental works, are also welcome. Will the Minister assure us that the Government will remain firm on these objectives and not give in to the short-sighted campaign by some people, including the NFU, to try to block these valuable changes?

My Lords, we have a legal obligation to implement what is known as greening from 2015. No decisions have yet been taken on implementation. We will consult stakeholders, including farmers’ representatives and NGOs. We need to achieve genuine environmental outcomes from greening, without impacting unnecessarily on farmers’ business activities.

My Lords, I declare an interest as a farmer. First, to satisfy 28 nations with a policy that is acceptable to all, when we see such a diverse structure of farming there, is a recipe for an uncommon market rather than a common market. Secondly, does my noble friend the Minister not agree that the emphasis at this time should be on the growth of food and the food security part of that, rather than just on greening? The whole emphasis seems to have turned to greening, switching from one pillar to the other. How do the new greening rules overlap with the existing agri-environmental scheme commitments, and what changes will those produce, as against the existing commitments faced, when the greening comes into effect?

My Lords, there are a couple of questions in there from my noble friend. Our priorities for CAP reform have always been to help EU agriculture become more competitive and market-oriented while improving the capacity to deliver better environmental outcomes. It is unclear precisely what the greening requirements will look like since the detailed rules have yet to be drawn up. However, we are working to ensure that all these elements are complementary and coherent so that we have a smooth transition to the new programme in 2015.

My Lords, could I pursue with the Minister the issue of the existing environmental schemes referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Plumb? Many farmers have signed contractual agreements for the entry-level scheme, and I can claim some responsibility for that scheme, having recommended it. They are under an obligation under those contracts. Will these be jeopardised by the new greening arrangements? There is a lot of concern and some confusion among the farming community on this issue.

My Lords, the noble Lord makes a very good point. If I have understood him correctly, no, it is very much our intention that they should not be adversely prejudiced.

My Lords, notwithstanding the progress being made on greening, what progress is being made on pruning the CAP?

Well, my Lords, that is indeed a question. In the context of the reduced CAP budget, the UK’s key aims for the CAP reform negotiations were to increase the resilience, market orientation and international competitiveness of EU agriculture; to improve the CAP’s capacity to deliver environmental outcomes; and to simplify the CAP for farmers and authorities. We want an efficient and responsive agricultural sector in the EU and globally, and we want the future CAP to achieve this.

My Lords, I declare my interests in the countryside. Does the Minister’s department recognise that success in greening policies relies very heavily on good will and implementation from farmers? Is the cart before the horse in this instance? Will the Minister outline what the Government want to achieve from greening measures, rather than transferring funds into Pillar 2 from Pillar 1 simply because they can?

I understand the noble Lord’s question, and others have asked that. The Government’s view is that environmental outcomes can be more targeted and more effective if they are delivered through Pillar 2. There will be a new set of environmental measures within Pillar 2 but we will honour the obligation in Pillar 1 to achieve the greening that is set down.

Does the Minister accept that when we look at the European Union budget, it really does not reflect priorities? We have an agricultural budget that exceeds that of research and development and indeed that of employment measures. While I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Plumb, on the need to maximise food production, we ought perhaps to take some lessons from the Cairns Group and put them into effect in Europe.

I cannot find very much to disagree with in what the noble Lord says. We worked very hard in the direction in which he is moving. The cut to the CAP budget was €55 billion, which is roughly equal to the annual level of spending on the CAP budget and better than a real freeze.

My Lords, given the very different patterns of agriculture across the 28 member states, to what extent is there flexibility within the new arrangements for member states to implement the greening measures in a way that suits British farmers and builds on some of the very real progress that they have already made?

My Lords, my noble friend makes an important point. We have fought hard to achieve an element of flexibility in the greening requirements. Perhaps we have not got as far as we would have liked but we are negotiating with nearly 30 other states and, of course, the Parliament.

My Lords, can we inject some intelligibility into the language with which these things are described? It really is the most awful gobbledegook. How can people outside be expected to understand about caps, pillars, greening and all this nonsense?