HC Deb 02 July 1962 vol 662 cc15-7
12. Mr. W. Hamilton

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will now make an authoritative estimate of the increase in food prices which will result from entry into the European Economic Community.

Mr. Soames

We are concerned in the negotiations to agree terms with the E.E.C. so that the necessary rises in food prices will be at a gradual and reasonable rate over a period of years. The extent of the increase by the time the full common market stage was reached —which on the Six's own timetable will not be until 1970—would depend on the level at which prices to producers in the enlarged Community are eventually determined. It is impossible to forecast what these prices will be eight years from now, or, indeed, what they would be by then if we stayed outside the Community. I cannot therefore estimate by how much our accession to the Community would increase food prices in this country, compared with what they otherwise would be. But I would not expect the increase to be large; and there would be compensating factors of which an important one would be a considerable reduction in the farm subsidy bill met by the taxpayer.

Mr. Hamilton

I am now as wise as I was before the Question was tabled. Can the Minister tell us what the weekly increase per head of the population will be? That is what we want to know. Will he confirm that the increase per head of the population will be quite substantial and that it will affect most hardly the lower income groups of the population in which there are many millions of people? Further, will he give the assurance that any consequent reductions in taxation will be given to the lower income groups and not to other wealthier sections of the community?

Mr. Soames

The hon. Gentleman is asking me to be clairvoyant, and that I do not claim to be.

Lady Tweedsmuir

Can my right hon. Friend say, when we go on to a different system of support prices for agriculture under the Common Market——

Mr. Nabarro

If we go in.

Lady Tweedsmur

—if or when—to what extent the reduction in indirect subsidies will offset the rises in food prices?

Mr. Soames

One cannot give the exact figures, for the reasons which I gave in my Answer, but obviously there will be a considerable offsetting through a reduction in taxation. Whether it will be 100 per cent. or to what extent it will be lower, one cannot tell.

Mr. Peart

The Minister is emotionally susceptible to the European concept. That was obvious from his speech the other day. The simple fact is that the Minister does not know what will happen, and that is what concerns many people in this country and the farming community. Will the right hon. Gentleman try to give some information from time to time instead of hiding behind general verbiage?

Mr. Soames

If I am asked what the price of food will be in 1970 if we join the Common Market, I really cannot say.

13. Mr. P. Williams

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what reply he has sent to the telegram from the Durham County Branch of the National Farmers' Union regarding the United Kingdom's entry into the Common Market.

Mr. Soames

None, Sir, as it was not addressed to me. But my right hon. Friend was good enough to send me a copy.

Mr. Williams

Then will my right hon. Friend be good enough to send me an answer some time? Is he aware that this telegram referred to the fact that Durham farmers are sick of platitudes and sick of the absence of any clear-cut statement of Government policy and that they look to the Government and to the Opposition for the fulfilment of the unqualified undertaking so often given in the past? Will my right hon. Friend give an unqualified undertaking to the British farmers that their interests will be safeguarded?

Mr. Soames

I understand that the purport of the telegram sent to my hon. Friend and to other hon. Members representing Durham constituencies was that the Durham County Branch of the National Farmers' Union was anxious whether the assurances given by the Government before we entered into negotiations that we would have in mind the preservation of the vital interests of the agricultural community still applied and the answer is, "Yes, Sir".

Mr. Peart

Is the Minister aware that officials of the Durham County Branch of the N.F.U. met the northern group of Members of Parliament on the Opposition side and were satisfied with the Opposition's approach?

Mr. Soames

If that is the case, the farmers of Durham must be awfully clever.

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