17 May 2002

End of subsidies?

FARMING subsidies should be reduced and eventually phased out altogether, DEFRA secretary Margaret Beckett has told a ministerial select committee.

Mrs Beckett told the environment, food and rural affairs select committee on May 15 that her department was committed to pushing through radical reform of the CAP which would be in the long-term interests of UK farmers.

"We would like to see all subsidies phased out and removed over time," said Mrs Beckett who was submitting evidence with junior DEFRA minister Lord Whitty.

"But we recognise that farmers provide some services like environmental management that are public goods and the public should find a way of supporting them."

Despite persistent questioning Mrs Beckett remained tight-lipped on the spending review. She said it would dictate how many of the Curry report proposals will be adopted by DEFRAs agricultural strategy document due to be published this autumn, but she is already preparing herself for disappointment. "Do we need more funding or better targeting of existing funds?" she asked.

Lord Whitty said he hoped the Treasury would recognise the value farming had to the wider rural economy. "One thing foot-and-mouth has shown is the devastating knock-on effect to other industries of shutting down the countryside."

The ministers indicated they were prepared to push CAP reform through unilaterally, if other EU member states do not co-operate. &#42