HC Deb 30 July 1965 vol 717 cc1009-11

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the Price Stability of Imported Products (Specified Commodities) (Amendment) Order, 1965, a draft of which was laid before this House on 8th July, be approved.—[Mr. Hoy.]

4.25 p.m.

Mr. Julian Snow (Lichfield and Tamworth)

I wish to ask my hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary a few questions about this Order, the introduction of which at this time causes me some surprise.

In effect the Minister is securing his authority for the introduction of this Order from the Agriculture and Horticulture Act, 1964. Stemming from that Act were various exchanges of letters and notes between various countries establishing the so-called cereal agreements of which this Order is an element and to which it is an addition. It adds to the Schedule of specified commodities Preparations of bran, sharps and residues derived for the sifting, milling or working of cereals other than rice. There may be a perfectly good argument for adding those products to the Schedule.

This is not the occasion, and I doubt whether I should be in order, for arguing the merits and demerits of the cereals agreements, but it is becoming evident that Government policy regarding these cereal agreements will have to undergo some reconsideration in the light of the economic position in the country. These agreements were negotiated by the Tory Administration and accepted by this Government. I had a letter from my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food on 28th May, in reply to a letter from myself when I was asking questions about the agreements and their extension, in which he said: I should not like to give the impression that in coming to our decision on cereals review we were hamstrung by the agreements made by the previous Government. These agreements can be terminated by either side but we attach importance to them. When we took office we decided to abide by them. As to the point about encouraging grain production, the agreements do not rule out an increase in home production in place of imports. I certainly approve the understandings which, as it were, frame and control the Schedule of specified commodities, but what surprises me is that nowhere do I find any control of national acreage. Farmers in my constituency who have an interest in this matter have complained to me and said that if there is no control of national acreage, what is the argument for adding the products of specified commodities in this Schedule? The whole idea behind this control was to restrain financial assistance so as to discourage the increase of domestic cereals production.

I see that my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary is rather puzzled about my arguing on this line on this Order. I shall tell him why I am doing so. Under the rules of order I imagine that I may not argue the merits and demerits of the Cereals Agreement. I am asking why at this time we should add to the Schedule when, I should strongly hope, the Government were reviewing the agreements with a view to preventing unnecessary imports of products which could be used if acreage maxima were reviewed.

4.29 p.m.

Mr. James Scott-Hopkins (Cornwall, North)

I welcome this Order. Perhaps the hon. Member for Lichfield and Tam-worth (Mr. Snow) has not quite grasped its meaning. It adds to the list to which minimum import prices can be applied. I should like to know whether there have been heavy importations of the products mentioned or not. The effect of the Order is the opposite of what the hon. Member has been talking about and has nothing to do with domestic home production or acreage. It would help the balance of payments position and, if so required, would give control of products coming into the country. Could the Joint Parliamentary Secretary say what is the position about imports and the levels at which it is intended to settle them?

4.30 p.m.

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. James Hoy)

I well understand the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Lichfield and Tamworth (Mr. Snow). The Order does not deal with that problem, though I appreciate the importance of the point he raised. The Order does not add anything to what has already been placed on the list. The reason for this is very simple. When the Minimum price arrangement for cereals was introduced in July, 1964, milling residues under tariff heading 23.02 were specified and a minimum price was prescribed for imports of these residues. When hon. Members opposite introduced that Order, it was thought that this tariff heading embraced all forms of milling residues, but it has since emerged that when such residues are compressed they are properly classified as preparations of animal feedingstuffs under tariff heading 23.07. All we seek to do by this Order is to transfer the residues from 23.02 to 23.07 to bring them into line with the customs regulations.

Having said that, I admit that it was an intricate little point. I do not in any way seek to depreciate what my hon. Friend said about the bigger question of the Cereals Agreement. All that the Order does is to transfer this from one column to another.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved, That the Price Stability of Imported Products (Specified Commodities) (Amendment) Order, 1965, a draft of which was laid before this House on 8th July, be approved.