Conservative leader David Cameron has called for more national control of the Common Agricultural Policy with a rebalancing of the amount of British taxpayers’ money that supports farmers in other Member States.
Speaking exclusively to Farmers Weekly ahead of his visit to the Royal Show, Warwickshire, Mr Cameron said future reform of the CAP needed to be more profound than the last because the costs of the policy were “still so great”.
“I think the direction we want to go is two-fold,” he explained.
“Firstly, trying to negotiate compulsory decoupling so that all European countries have to decouple agricultural support from production. The second thing is progressively to have compulsory co-financing – countries actually paying a little more themselves. I think they [the public] feel that we have for many years been contributing too much to the farmers of other countries, and countries should take more responsibility themselves. I’m arguing for a rebalancing, I think that’s very clear.”
Mr Cameron believed the government was not taking farming seriously enough, and was unable to make good decisions.
“We’ve had the shambles of the single farm payment where ministers repeatedly promised it would be fixed but it hasn’t been. We’ve got endless dithering over TB in cattle. We’ve got a massive increase in regulation in almost every area. I don’t think they [the government] feel it in their bones, they don’t understand it in their hearts, and so when it comes to making decisions, they make bad ones.”
Food labelling was a crucial issue which Mr Cameron said he wanted to tackle.
“Consumers want to support British farmers and British produce but they can’t because we don’t have a proper labelling system. British farmers now produce the cleanest, best, high quality standard food in the world. British consumers say they want it. The government’s got to help put these two things together by having a proper labelling system.”
He was also sympathetic to the rising burden of red tape and said being tough in Europe would be necessary.
“Sometimes it will mean taking a tougher line in Europe of saying no to things, but it’s about understanding the pressures farmers are under and about understanding that each new regulation adds to that burden.
“At a time when farm incomes have been falling, when you know so many farmers have been exiting the industry altogether, we’ve got to try and make their lives easy. You need a government that is instinctively sympathetic towards farmers and the rural economy, and this one has been completely unsympathetic.”
Mr Cameron acknowledged renewable fuels offered real hope for the industry but was not prepared to make a commitment on a bigger biofuels tax break or the Renewable Transport Fuel Obligation.
“I’m not writing the budget [now], attractive as that might be. But I think we need to look at the tax regime for biofuels. I think we need to look at the way the energy market works; the regulations of the energy market to see if we can make a more level playing field and enable what would be a win, win, win situation: New crops for farmers to grow, new fuels for people to use in their cars and power stations, a greener cleaner environment.”
He also accepted farmers should be getting a fair deal from supermarkets and supported the inquiry into supermarket competition, but he stopped short of backing legislation to rein them in.
“We have to look at the evidence. If there’s evidence of wrong-doing then obviously we’d have to act, but let’s wait and see what the competition commission has to say.”