HC Deb 14 December 1966 vol 738 cc436-41
11. Mr. William Hamilton

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will publish a White Paper giving a detailed assessment of the effects on food prices of Great Britain's entry to the European Economic Community.

Mr. Peart

I do not think I could usefully enlarge upon the statement which my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister made on 10th November in reply to the hon. Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Ridley).—[Vol. 735, c. 1530–1.]

Mr. Hamilton

Do I take it from that Answer that my right hon. Friend agrees with the assessment made by the Prime Minister on that occasion? Is it not the case that the effect on food prices of our entry into the E.E.C. depends very much on the length of the transitional period and our adjustment to the agricultural policies of the Common Market? In those circumstances, will he give an assurance that in the negotiations the Government will seek to extend that transitional period for as long as possible?

Mr. Peart

Of course I agree with the estimate of the Prime Minister. But it would be wrong of me to indulge in hypothesis about the transitional period. We are now engaged in a probe, and the purpose of a probe is to obtain information.

Mr. Longden

If the Government wish to carry public opinion with them—as I presume they do—in their attempt to get into the Common Market, will the Minister at this stage at least say something to correct the grossly exaggerated estimates of the National Farmers' Union and many of his hon. Friends below the Gangway in regard to this matter?

Mr. Peart

The Prime Minister's statement, in which he spoke of a range of between 10 per cent. and 14 per cent., was a moderate and modest one. Other estimates have been made—some higher and some lower—but I think that the Prime Minister's estimate was quite reasonable.

Mr. Emrys Hughes

Will my right hon. Friend explain to hon. Members who object to the import of cattle from Eire that there will be a far greater volume of cattle imports from other countries if we join the Common Market?

Mr. Peart

I could not hope to explain the contradictions in Conservative policies.

15. Mr. Peter Mills

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what plans or adjustments he proposes for British agriculture which will facilitate Britain's entry into the Common Market.

Mr. Peart

It would be premature to seek to change the shape of British agriculture or our methods of support for the purpose suggested before we know whether the right conditions exist for negotiations to enter the E.E.C., or what the arrangements might be under the common agricultural policy for an en-enlarged Community. Inside or outside the Community the best assurance for the future of British agriculture is to continue to improve its efficiency and competitive ability, and the Government's policy is to promote this.

Mr. Mills

Is this not very unwise and foolish? Does not the right hon. Gentleman remind one of the foolish virgins who were unprepared for the future? Surely, if we are going into Europe and he is taking the prospect seriously, preparations must be made now.

Mr. Peart

I have explained about the Government's probe. Apart from that, and irrespective of entry into the E.E.C., it is important to have a strong British farming industry.

Mr. Stodart

Can the right hon. Gentleman explain, if there is to be the worth-while expansion that he has referred to, whether or not we go into the Community, how he is to achieve that without changing the present system?

Mr. Peart

The Government are conducting a probe. My right hon. Friends the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary are finding out the prospects, because it is right to make certain whether the conditions exist and that we should know what problems there are. There are problems, although some right hon. and hon. Members opposite merely dismiss them. But responsible opinion in the Tory Party recognises, as we do, that there are problems.

Mr. Hooson

Does not the right hon. Gentleman recollect that the Conservative Government, before they applied, made no adjustments to our agricultural policy? Will not he benefit from their experience?

Mr. Peart

I would hate to follow Conservative precedent.

17. Mr. Alasdair Mackenzie

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food whether, in view of the uncertainty surrounding the future of hill and upland farming if Great Britain joins the European Economic Community on the terms at present open to her, he will give an assurance that the future of this sector of the industry will be safeguarded before a decision to join the Community is taken by the Government.

Mr. Peart

The terms upon which Britain might enter the European Economic Community would be a matter for any negotiations which the Government might decide to initiate as a result of the high-level soundings announced by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister on 10th November. In any negotiations of this kind we should naturally bear in mind the implications for all aspects of British agriculture, including hill and upland farming.

Mr. Mackenzie

While I thank the right hon. Gentleman for that assurance, would not he agree that if we are forced to accept the E.E.C. regulations as they stand, the Agriculture Bill now before the House, particularly the provisions of Part III, could be nullified unless we had some assurance on the point?

Mr. Peart

The hon. Gentleman has emphasised some of the difficulties in relation to our own legislation and regulations. But we are not at the stage of negotiation at the moment. We are merely probing. But I note with interest what the hon. Gentleman has said.

Mr. Frederic Harris

Is the right hon. Gentleman so keen to join? He gives the impression in his replies that he is not.

Mr. Peart

I have said that Government policy is to conduct a probe, and I support it strongly. I want to make sure that British interests are protected and not ignored.

Mr. Hazell

Will my right hon. Friend take into account the concern of very small farmers and horticulturists as to their future if we join and give an assurance that their problems will be taken into account when discussions take place?

Mr. Peart

As I have said, these are all matters that we should take note of, but at this stage the Government are merely probing.

Mr. Stodart

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that an article in the Treaty of Rome makes it possible for these production grants to be maintained, but that it will depend upon his fighting the case with a great deal more vigour than he is doing today?

Mr. Peart

The trouble is that right hon. and hon Members opposite would not fight for the British case. They would give away, as they did, our negotiating position at once. The hon. Gentleman must know that what matters most in the Community's agricultural policy is not so much what is in the Treaty but what is in the regulations.

31. Mr. Biffen

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what are the expected consequences for United Kingdom poultry, pig and dairy farming if the Common Market agricultural policy is applied to these products; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Peart

If the present price levels adopted by the E.E.C. remain unchanged, the high prices for cereals and, therefore, for animal feeding stuffs would result in lower profitability for poultry, pig and dairy farming.

Mr. Biffen

Are we then to assume from that Answer that it is the view of the Minister that there would have to be substantial alterations in the agricultural policy of the Common Market in order to provide for the continued level of earnings of farmers in this kind of husbandry?

Mr. Peart

I am dealing now with the situation as it is. I was asked about present levels. As I have said on many occasions, the future situation will be quite different and the Government are now trying to find out what are the facts.

45. Mr. Shinwell

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what is his estimate of the volume, description and prices of foodstuffs which will be imported into the United Kingdom from France in the event of British entry into the European Economic Community.

Mr. Peart

It is naturally to be expected that there would be greater opportunities for intra-Community trade. I am afraid, however, that it is not possible to provide the specific estimate requested by my right hon. Friend without speculating unduly on the many imponderable factors involved, including what common agricultural arrangements might be in force in any enlarged Community.

Mr. Shinwell

This is all speculation, as the Minister has indicated in his reply, and there is nothing firm about it, neither in guarantees nor in capacity to provide firm estimates or anything of the sort. All that we hear is something about safeguards. Is it not true that there are so many safeguards promised to farmers and others up and down the country that the Government will be so cluttered up with safeguards that they will not be able to proceed at all?

Mr. Peart

I have noted what my right hon. Friend has said, but he knows that the Prime Minister has announced a policy whereby we shall probe in order to find out what the exact situation is.

Mr. Prior

Why does the right hon. Gentleman not give his right hon. Friend a more sympathetic reply, because I know that he will be on the same side anyhow?

Mr. Peart

I gave a reply which I think is right. It is a factual reply, and I am sure that it would be accepted as a sensible one.

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