HC Deb 17 November 1970 vol 806 cc1019-22
10. Sir A. Meyer

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what study his Department is making into the relative efficiency of the distribution system for agricultural produce in the United Kingdom as compared with the European Economic Community.

Mr. Anthony Stodart

Within the E.E.C., distribution varies so greatly by product and country that general studies would be less informative than those made by trade associations and firms.

Sir A. Meyer

Would my hon. Friend agree that, by and large, British distribution is very much more efficient than that on the Continent, that this efficiency is growing and will continue to improve even if we gain entry into the Common Market? Does not this make nonsense of many of the alarmist comparisons that are made about food costs between this country and the E.E.C.?

Mr. Stodart

I subscribe generally to those remarks of my hon. Friend. I wish, however, to repeat how difficult it is to make an across-the-board comparison in this matter. Nevertheless, I would have thought that food distribution here was extremely competitive and efficient but that perhaps it was held back by things like the provisions of the Transport Act and selective employment tax.

Mr. Strang

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the Meat and Livestock Commission will have an important rôle to play in improving the distribution of meat products? May we have an assurance that this organisation will not be sacrified in the present scourge of all bodies that do not make a profit?

Mr. Stodart

I suggest that the hon. Gentleman tables a Question on that matter.

11. Sir A. Meyer

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food whether it remains Government policy to press for the continuance of a procedure of national annual review in the European Economic Community in the event of British membership.

Mr. Prior

The Community has already agreed in the current negotiations that as a member we should still be able to hold our own annual review of agriculture in the United Kingdom.

13. Mr. Wall

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what discussions he has had regarding the effect of the new European Economic Community fisheries policy on the British industry.

Mr. Prior

As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland said on 4th November, terms of entry are a matter for negotiation between the United Kingdom and the Community, and my right hon. Friends and I are well aware of the anxieties of the fishing industry. We are taking them into account in the negotiations.

Mr. Wall

Now that the E.E.C. has made up its mind on a definite fisheries policy, may I ask my right hon. Friend whether he is aware that the inshore industry is particularly anxious over certain aspects of this policy? Will he undertake to have discussions with certain sections of the industry before any decision is made about entering the Community?

Mr. Prior

We are in constant discussions with sections of the industry. I will bear in mind the point my hon. Friend has made about the inshore industry. We have, of course, reserved our position on the common fisheries policy, and that is where the Government stand at the moment.

Mr. James Johnson

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that this is the fourth occasion on which a question of this type has been put to the Government and the fourth occasion on which he or his colleagues have hedged on the matter? Would he now be good enough to tell the House categorically that we have made no concessions and that the Six did not at Luxembourg a month ago commit us to a policy which we must accept whatever we think about it? In other words, will the right hon. Gentleman give a firm undertaking that we are not committed to the policy of the Six in this matter?

Mr. Prior

Until we join we are not committed to anything [HON. MEMBERS: "Until?"]—if we join—[HON. MEMBERS: "If?"] Until and if we join the Common Market we are not committed to any step. However, what we are concerned with doing at present is to reserve our position and tell the Common Market what is acceptable and what is unacceptable. As things stand at the moment, the Common Market has entered upon a common fisheries policy, certain parts of which are not satisfactory to us and to other countries. This will be the subject of further discussions.

Mr. W. H. K. Baker

Will my right hon. Friend make it abundantly clear to the E.E.C. that the implications of this policy are utterly unacceptable to the inshore fishing industry?

Mr. Prior

I have noted my hon. Friend's remarks.

Mr. McNamara

The Minister said that we are reserving our position. What position are we reserving? What have we decided is acceptable and what is unacceptable? May we know so that we may have an idea of where we are going?

Mr. Prior

Not at this stage.

20. Sir R. Russell

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food how the productivity of dairy farming in Great Britain compares with that of New Zealand, Australia and the countries of the European Economic Community, according to information available to him from international sources.

Mr. Anthony Stodart

A good deal of statistical data on the dairying industries in the particular countries has been published. Unfortunately, however, information which would enable inter-country comparisons to be made of overall levels of productivity in the dairy sectors is not available.

Sir R. Russell

Does my hon. Friend agree that on the whole New Zealand has the most efficient dairy producing industry in the world? Will he ask his right hon. Friend to take no action which will reduce our purchases of dairy produce from New Zealand but, on the other hand, to encourage it?

Mr. Stodart

I agree with my hon. Friend that, thanks to several favourable climatic conditions, larger herds and so on, New Zealand has an extremely efficient dairy-producing industry. My right hon. Friend is aware of the New Zealand dependence on the United Kingdom market and the need for special arrangements to prevent serious damage to the New Zealand economy.

Mr. Moyle

In view of that reply, will the Minister give an undertaking to the House that Her Majesty's Government will press on with the re-negotiation of the trade agreement with New Zealand, so that British people can continue to take advantage of New Zealand agricultural imports?

Mr. Stodart

This is a slightly different question, but I think that the trade agreement runs until 1972.