HC Deb 03 April 1968 vol 762 cc358-9
31. Mr. Godber

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what discussions he is holding with regard to the question of minimum import prices or with regard to the imposition of levies on imports at the present time; and whether he will make a statement.

Mr. Peart

Consultations with our main overseas suppliers are in progress concerning the level of the cereals minimum import prices following devaluation. There are also shortly to be discussions with the industry about suggestions it has made relating to imports of certain other agricultural products.

Mr. Godber

Will the Minister keep in mind all the time that any changes that he makes, if they are based on a minimum import price system, must have an adverse effect on our balance of payments, whereas if he uses the levy system it will not have this effect? In answering this point, will he also clear up an inaccurate answer that he gave earlier on the levy, when he talked about very high prices for the consumer in the change. In fact, that change would be less than the effect of devaluation.

Mr. Peart

I did not give an inaccurate answer. On the estimates of the right hon. Gentleman's own party the adoption of the levy system would force prices up. They said this. There is no doubt about this and they should not pretend. I inherited the minimum import price system from the right hon. Gentleman and I am having discussions about how to modify and improve it.

Mr. Prior

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that we welcome the talks that he is to hold with the leaders of the farming industry and, in so far as this is another broken election promise, will he go on with them?

Mr. Peart

I was not aware that it was an election promise of mine not to have talks with the National Farmers' Union.

Mr. Brooks

Is my right hon. Friend aware of any evidence to show that productivity is encouraged as a result of that imposition of a levy system?

Mr. Peart

This is why I have said that we must be cautious, pragmatic and sensible, unlike hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite, who are doctrinal about this, and who would sacrifice the interests of the farming community tomorrow.