Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Reforming the CAP

Is a Jaffa Cake a cake or a biscuit? Is Dolmio a soup or a vegetable? I suspect that most of us don't really care but the European Parliament has hours of fun arguing over issues like this, usually because how such products are defined can affect VAT or taxes of some sort.

As long ago as the 70’s, James Callaghan bemoaned the fact that he was tired of going to Brussels to argue about the size of rear view tractor mirrors. Earlier this summer I was elected to the select committee on the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and last week we went to Brussels for a briefing ahead of an Inquiry we are about to launch into CAP reform.

The Common Agricultural Policy takes up about 43 percent of the EU's total budget. For as long I can remember, the CAP has always been followed by the word “reform” when discussed which suggests that changing it is a slow process indeed. In the early days the CAP was seen as a success, ending the shortage of food in the aftermath of the war but then it came under fire for creating so called "butter mountains" and for a controversial market support mechanism which distorted world trade.

In the 1990s it was slowly reformed and market support systems were taken away and direct subsidy payments were paid to farmers instead. Finally, ten years ago the direct subsidy payments made to farmers were switched to a simpler "single farm payment" based on land area rather than what was being produced on the land to discourage intensive farming. More support also went into schemes to enhance the environment and wildlife.

But guess what? Now people are worried that we don’t have enough food again. The butter mountains are long gone. With a rising world population, food security has become a pressing issue and farmers, who have often been derided as subsidy junkies, are suddenly needed again. One of the most fascinating statistics I came across last week was that 35 percent of farmers are over 65 years of age and only 7 percent are under 40. What happens in twenty years time? I think we need to do more to support and encourage young farmers in Britain today.

I have long held that the expansion of the European Union from the original 12 member states to 27 means that we need to significantly streamline the role of the EU. It is currently a failing institution and has become so big that the countries can rarely agree and struggle to get anything done. There are two possible solutions to this problem. The solution favoured by the European Commission is to undermine the power of member states even more and centralise power. But a better solution is to cut back the role of the EU so that it does much less but does what it does much more efficiently. We will find out in the year ahead how strong the mood for change is.

Thursday, 2 December 2010

Let's regenerate Hayle

Really big decisions are always difficult, usually contentious and often divisive. The easy thing for a politician to do is keep their head down and try not to get involved. But the right thing to do is to study the detail, exercise judgement and do what’s in the best interests of the people you represent.

I grew up near Hayle and my family have lived in the area for over four hundred years. We have seen the town built from scratch and parts of it fall back down again. All my lifetime they have talked about regenerating Hayle Harbour but, over the years, too many people have bottled the big decisions and so nothing has happened. I want that to change.

If it was easy to regenerate Hayle then it would have been done years ago. It isn’t easy so we need to be prepared to compromise to get a result. We should also respect differing views. Earlier this summer the Mayor of Hayle, John Bennett, was criticised for expressing a personal opinion at odds with the Town Council. I didn’t agree with that criticism. People should be free to say what they think. I respect John Bennett and weighed up his arguments carefully before reaching my own conclusion.

There are four rival plans for a supermarket in Hayle. Three are out of town and one, the ING proposal, would be in the centre at the Foundry end of South Quay with restaurants and other mixed development on the rest of the quay. I think that out of town supermarkets have done a lot of damage over the last twenty years. So if we are going to have a supermarket in Hayle, then let’s at least put it where it will bring new life in to the town rather than bleed more life away from the town. The South Quay proposal would be connected in the most literal sense possible with a footbridge over the harbour to Biggleston’s, one of Hayle’s oldest shops.

If all these supermarkets want to locate in Hayle, I also feel strongly that we should demand something in return. That is why I pushed to get serious negotiators on the other side of the table from ING early this summer. It is also why I have insisted that a community cinema should be part of the plan because Councillor Bob Amos’ Pioneerium project is the brightest idea to come out of Hayle for years.

The ING option on South Quay gives Hayle at least £6 million more than any rival plan because it repairs the harbour walls and delivers the necessary flood defences before anything can happen at all. I have nothing against Morrison’s, Sainsbury’s or ASDA. Each has something different to offer and any one of them could locate on South Quay. They should start thinking about this now. Hayle was built by people with the courage to take big decisions. Now it’s our turn, so let’s seize the day.