Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Just how much say do we have?

A move away from the common foreign policy to the common  agricultural one, known to us all as CAP. Do we want to be part of it as we undoubtedly have to be if we stay in the European Union? That one is a little hard to defend as it is so obvious that we have minimal say in the decisions made and no control over the regulations that are then imposed on our farmers but, I have no doubt, there will be those who will shriek with horror at the very suggestion that we no longer participate in this structure, despite the fact that they cannot name a single benefit or a single instance of British influence.

On February 26 the House of Lords had a short debate (what used to be known as an Unstarred Question but we have abandoned such traditional labels) on this very subject. Lord Willoughby de Broke asked HMG "what is their assessment of the effect of European Union regulation on British agriculture".

As there are several peers still in the House who know about agriculture and some who even understand the intricacies of the CAP the debate was quite interesting and I thoroughly recommend it to readers of this blog. But here are a few meaty quotes from Lord Willoughby's speech, to keep everyone going:
I declare my interest as a member of that disgruntled group of farmers. I farm in Warwickshire and I am disgruntled because during my time in the Lords I have served on the committee chaired by the noble Earl, Lord Selborne, who is in his place, and have spoken in many debates, including debates in 1991, 1994, 1996, 1999, 2000, 2004 and 2008. I think that in nearly all those debates there were calls for reform of the common agricultural policy. I think that both Front Benches in this House have always agreed with the idea of reforming the common agricultural policy. However, what has happened after all those fine words? Where are we now? Has anything changed? Has the common agricultural policy become less bureaucratic, less centralised and less corrupt? No, it has not. Has it made farmers any more prosperous? No, it has not. Actually, things have got worse, as I will explain.

The beef and sheep sectors are suffering under overregulation, passports and identification schemes, many of which are unnecessary and certainly very burdensome and time-consuming for stock farmers. Arable farmers are regularly stripped of their ability to grow profitable, healthy and viable crops at a time when they are being enjoined to feed an ever increasing population, but the rules from Brussels make it more and more difficult to do that. I take the example of winter wheat. One of the big enemies of winter wheat is the black-grass weed. Over the last couple of years, the most effective black-grass herbicides have been gradually withdrawn against the advice of our own very independent and expert Advisory Committee on Pesticides and that of the previous government Chief Scientific Adviser, Sir John Beddington. However, their advice does not really count. What counts is what goes on in Brussels. The ayatollahs in Brussels decide what we are going to do and we have almost no say there any more. The rules are decided by the agricultural bosses in Brussels in the Commission and are subject to qualified majority voting in the Council of Ministers, where we are regularly outvoted.

As the Minister will remember, the humiliating position of having no say in what goes on in agriculture in this country was underlined last summer when the Commission, spurred on by demonstrators dressed up as bumble-bees, suspended the use of neonicotinoid seed dressings for oilseed rape and other brassicas. Yet again, our Advisory Committee on Pesticides was against this, as to their credit were the Government and the Minister. Yet again, we are being forced to enforce a policy with which we do not agree.

The rule of unintended consequences will now kick in. Large acreages of oilseed rape have been damaged. The percentages are arguable, but these acreages have certainly suffered. According to Home Grown Cereals Authority estimates, about 40,000 acres of oilseed rape last autumn had to be destroyed, abandoned or re-drilled. The consequence of that is that as oilseed rape is a major food for bees and pollinators, there will be less food for them: there will be less oilseed rape. Now that neonics are banned, farmers will use airborne sprays. They have to be put on at flowering time. This initiative by the Commission will definitely damage bees more than was the case when we had neonicotinoid seed dressings—but welcome to the EU, and have a nice day.
The point is one that we make over and over again but it has not sunk in yet even after all these decades: it really does not matter what farmers in this country might want (and having worked with them in a previous reincarnation I can certainly affirm that many of the demands are completely unreasonable and often made by one sector at the expense of another one) or what our own elected politicians might proclaim. There is no possibility of getting our way in the structure as it stands.

The rest of the debate and the Minister's reply is quite salutary. Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Dormer, for the Liberal-Democrats, decided to use her speech for the purpose of attacking UKIP's agricultural policy, which, according to her, veered from the slightly batty to the blatantly obvious.
One effect of the tabling of this debate was to make me look at UKIP’s agricultural policies. I was most surprised to see that number one on its agricultural policy list is to impose stronger controls on bush meat. Controlling bush meat, with all its health implications, is clearly very important, but that is not really a British agricultural issue. It is not in competition with beef or lamb. To mix my metaphors, it is a total red herring. That is an issue for the Home Office and border controls. The second top policy of UKIP is to support the trial culling of badgers for the control of bovine TB if veterinary opinion substantiates it. That is not original. It is common to all sides of the House so there is nothing to disagree with there. The third is that UKIP supports the principle of science before emotion on any agricultural topic. Who does not?
Actually, as it became obvious, the EU does not necessarily, still preferring the precautionary policy, much touted by various NGOs who, as we know, are paid for by tax money.

Then there were several examples of CAP regulations that were actually not that bad or even quite good, which is not to be denied. Even a stopped clock, as we know, is right twice a day. The question is not that but exactly how much rubbish do we have to accept in order to have some reasonable decisions, which, presumably, could be made in this country.

Some hope has been expressed in the wake of statements made by Commissioner Hogan, by Lord Caithness among others:
There has been an encouraging start by Commissioner Hogan, however, who has said many of the right things. I hope that he is more in the MacSharry mould than his predecessor. In his keynote address to the NFU conference in Birmingham two days ago, Commissioner Hogan said that he had made simplification a top priority for his work programme in 2015. He went on to say that he had launched a comprehensive screening exercise of the entire CAP to identify which sections may need simplifying. He went on to say that more than 200 Commission regulations implemented the common market organisation will be reviewed and simplified. If 200 are being looked at, what is happening to the others? Why are they not being looked at? In what timescale will this happen? How will we hold the commissioner’s feet to the fire? He has said the right things; how will we make him perform?
The fact is that every incoming Commissioner makes simplification his (or her) priority and every new Commission and new Presidency intends to cut back red tape and deregulate, possibly even decentralize within limits allowed by the acquis communautaire, which means not at all. It is a little odd that people should still find statements and speeches of that kind hopeful.

However, the really interesting speech is the one by the Minister, Lord De Mauley. It is very rational and full of good intentions as well as of a list of British attempts to achieve something, change something or prevent something within the CAP. What it is a little short on is actual achievements. I am afraid, Lord Willoughby de Broke's point is proved by the Minister who may well agree but cannot openly say so.


  1. I was in at the beginning of the CAP on a MAFF/grain trade committee. When it was first explained, most members of the committee ( who were a generation older than I) were so angry they were very close to walking out and it took all the skill of a Sir Humphrey Appleby type too soothe them.
    " well gentlemen, we were not founder members of the community, so these arrangements are not what we would have wished, but just give it a few years of British common sense and we will soon get it licked into shape"
    It was beautifully done and tea and biscuits appeared on cue. " in the meantime, the political decision having been taken, we want to help you get the very best out of this"
    I had known what was coming for around ten years because of our firm's association with a Dutch company. One of their directors had kindly entertained me to dinner when I was very junior indeed. I had noticed the odd process of "denaturing " wheat in their mill, making it unfit for human consumption. He explained it all to me very patiently and I was astonished. I asked why such a sensible people as the Dutch had agreed to such a potty system. " Little Holland is neighbour of big Germany and the Germans wanted it" was his matter of fact reply. As I knew he had flown with the RAF in the war and felt I had spoken out of turn, I shut up.
    Incidentally I thought Stuart Agnew's speech on agriculture at last year's UKIP conference was pretty realistic. They would carry on with a slightly modified, British-financed Single Farm Payment scheme for the time being.
    The eminently sensible Deficiency Payment system which we used before EEC membership would not be permissible under WTO rules. So he had done some homework and is, of course, a farmer himself.

  2. Anonymous.
    I have a copy of the Labour government pamphlet of 1975, urging acceptance of "Britain's New Deal in Europe". A reasonably intelligent reader without specialist knowledge would have the impression that all that was at stake was a trade deal, a "Common Market" with a few extras on the side over which the British government had a veto. It was also stated that the policy of EMU (Economic and Monetary Union - essentially the euro currency) had been permanently abandoned. It was a clever deceit of course, principally to help Mr Wilson settle internal disputes within the Labour party. The way in which the BBC and all national newspapers of significance were brought "on message" in favour of the EEC has been documented. I don't think there has ever been such a massive campaign of deceit in which the government and leaderships of the main parties joined so enthusiastically, backed by CIA funding to the European Movement. I think that no modern government can easily lose a referendum, if it uses the resources of the state to campaign for the answer it wants. So did Sir Isaiah Berlin!

    I voted against, by the way. But to get at the truth was very difficult for the ordinary person and it was swimming against the tide of opinion. All "nice" people seemed to be in favour. It was "extremists" like Anthony Wedgewood Benn and Enoch Powell who were opposed. There was no internet in those days, so to know any different, you had to belong to one or other of some very small groups or pay a considerable amount of money for very boring official documents - and then read them. Very easy to be smart Alec after the event, Anonymous. I only knew it was a wrong 'un because the business I was in was ruled by the appalling, alien CAP which cut us off from our traditional Commonwealth suppliers.

    1. you still voted for greed in 1979 and again in 1983. just think if you voted for labour in 1983 how different things could have been!

  3. Voting against the "winter of discontent", unburied corpses and hospital porters, as union reps, deciding which emergency cases would be admitted was hardly greed.
    I don't think it would have helped us very much to vote Labour in 1983. They were just politicians too! Whilst I have Tony Blair's election manifesto, promising to get us out, they had nearly all changed their minds by 1986 after that nice M. Delors persuaded the TUC that EU regulations and directives would nullify that nasty Mrs T - who was also a keen europhile at the time, by the way!

  4. lord cockfield wrote the single market white paper ,a sop to big corporate power! according to lord cockfield thatcher was happy for delors to be involved.that was in 1985 she was not a europhile she was a neoliberal fundamentalist who could not get her own way

  5. And of course, there was a strong, well-organised pro EEC group in the Labour Party too - without which the ECA 1972 would not have passed. In later years, I got to know one of them quite well. Phillip Whitehead gained good opinions from people of all parties and none as a Westminster constituency MP and later became an MEP. I stood against him for UKIP in 1999 EU election. He was, I think, a true believer in the European project. We were on opposite sides of the platform in various debates and had some vigorous correspondence in the Derby and Burton papers. Although we were deeply opposed politically, I came to like him a lot. His death was a loss to local,politicis. I now campaign in the cross-party Campaign for an Independent Britain. For many years our chairman was the Labour peer, Lord Stoddart of Swindon, a former government whip in the Commons who resigned in opposition to the EU Parliament becoming an elected body in competition with Westminster. In the Lords he rebelled against the parachuting of the Tory turncoat Sean Woodward into a safe Labour seat ( said to be the only MP with a real, live butler!) and he now sits as
    Independent Labour, putting frequent awkward questions on EU matters.
    So I think the EU issue transcends traditional party loyalties which often get in the way of the real issue ( democracy versus european authoritarianism)
    My father was a double dyed-in-the-wool Tory, like generations before him. At the time of the 1975 referendum, he said " I don't like this Europe business. There's something about it that doesn't smell right". He paused and added " But that man Wedgewood Benn's against it. So there must be some good in it! "

    1. edward define independent britian

  6. Not subject to another's authority or jurisdiction, able to make and to change internal law and international agreements with other countries or bodies but not subject, as with the EU, to a supranational authority or that of another country.

    The constitutional expert Dicey said that Parliament was legally supreme but the people were sovereign over Parliament. Our leaders decided that they would like another boss and transferred their allegiance elsewhere to the EU by a series of Enabling Acts . So you can still vote for your MP but it makes no difference to most of the way things are done because the institutions of the EU have primacy over all areas of law covered by the treaties "without further enactment" as it says in the ECA 1972 .

    1. the heritage foundation has plans for britian, keep drinking the neoliberal/neo con cool-aid

  7. Well, now. We all know Edward Spalton who does not mind putting his name to his opinions and his arguments. But who is this semi-literate Anonymous who is attacking Mr Spalton? Hmmmm? Not brave enough to tell us?

  8. Could I ask everyone who might read this thread not to feed the troll? Especially you, Edward. We don't want to encourage him. Thank you.