Hudghton (ARE) - Madam President, the Agenda 2000 package of reforms provides a major challenge to Europe's decision-makers and I do not underestimate that in any way. The need to achieve an early agreement on the package must be balanced with the importance of ensuring that a fair and a reasonable set of proposals is seen to be adopted. The common agricultural policy clearly must be examined and adjusted in an attempt to strike a balance between on the one hand providing proper support to our food production industry, and on the other hand ensuring that good value is achieved for the expenditure of public funds. Adequate and transparent systems must of course be in place to ensure that financial controls meet the high standards that we are entitled to expect. The diversity of circumstances across the European
Union in the agricultural sectors clearly requires due consideration in the new common agricultural policy, which must be tailored to properly fulfil its purpose. My home area of Europe – the north-east of Scotland – is sometimes called the larder of Scotland, containing as it does some of the best examples of high-quality agricultural, and indeed fisheries, production in Europe. Aberdeen Angus beef, cereals, oilseed, sheep, poultry, soft fruit and potatoes, to name but a few, are all produced in an industry which is economically crucial to Scotland, with an output of £2 billion and one in ten of all Scottish jobs being dependent on it, directly or indirectly. Our farmers are all aware and accept that common agricultural policy reform is needed, but the nature of the final report proposals should reflect the needs of the industry in Scotland, for example, in the definition of farm unit size. Scotland, politically, is in a disadvantaged position at this moment, with our national interests being represented from London. I hope that, as the reform package is finalised, the UK Government will, this time, properly articulate the case of Scotland's agricultural industry and that the Commissioner will take due note of any direct representations received from Scotland. Our farmers, as well as our consumers and our taxpayers, are entitled to expect that reforms will bring about a genuine improvement in any new package and that specific changes, once agreed, can be carefully phased in so that our farmers can adjust to further changes in a properly managed way. The farmers that I know are hardworking people, many in small family businesses who are aware of, and accept fully, their responsibilities to the consumer, to the environment and to the rural economy. Madam President, Commissioner, let us work towards a common agricultural policy which will encourage, not further discourage, their efforts to continue to survive.