Nik Darlington 9.30am
The European Commission is proposing to reform the controversial Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) to maker it ‘greener’. The first negotiations over these reforms begin at the European Council begin today.
Last week, Caroline Spelman, the Environment Secretary, said she was “disappointed” with proposals that “could actually take us backwards”. Defra wants more targeted payments to reward farmers for their valuable environmental role, and for agricultural subsidies to be gradually reduced.
This is something that Jim Paice, the farming minister, told a fringe meeting on food security at the recent Conservative party conference in Manchester.
Mrs Spelman told the BBC yesterday (from 2’30” in video below) that European farmers need to produce “more food sustainably”.
It is true, as Mrs Spelman says, that UK farmers “go out of their way” to preserve the environment and at present they are not being properly rewarded for the provision of that public good.
We do, moreover, need a greener CAP. One that is appropriate for the needs of the 21st century, not les agriculteurs of the Fifties. And a greener CAP shouldn’t mean taking land out of the production, something that Mrs Spelman thankfully agrees with. This would be disastrous for Britain’s food security.
Yet while Mrs Spelman does like to talk green - and, if you’ve noticed, wear green clothing - we should be concerned about the coalition’s commitment to environmental protection.
The Chancellor’s speech to the Conservative party conference earlier this month suggested, as the Guardian's Damian Carrington blogged, a “lack of faith in the power of green policies”.
The FT (£) reveals today that solar power subsidies are being “slashed” and onshore wind subsidies could follow. However, wave and tidal power are being increased. This could be seen as a pragmatic move for an island nation with hundreds of miles of coastline, not very much sunshine and a population (usually rightly) opposed to landscape-blighting windmills. Nevertheless, a pragmatic investor doesn’t put all its eggs in one basket; and even if technologies are not so applicable here, they will be elsewhere, and Britain is well placed to capitalise on green technology growth.
Furthermore, a £1 billion carbon capture scheme has been abandoned in Scotland, while the reforms to the planning system, if not significantly tightened up, pose a real threat to our natural environment.
It is all well and good saying that we need a greener CAP. We do, and I hope that Mrs Spelman and her team force significant reforms to an invidious policy.
But the "greenest Government ever" needs to restate its commitment to a greener Britain too.