HC Deb 19 January 1971 vol 809 cc701-3
10. Sir A. Meyer

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what has been the trend in world food prices during the last 12 months, from information available from international services.

Mr. Prior

Information published by the United Nations indicates that for food and feedingstuffs exports, prices on various world markets rose on average by about 4 per cent. between the second quarters of 1969 and 1970; quotations on world markets for a number of important foodstuffs show that prices continued to increase during the second half of 1970.

Sir A. Meyer

Does my right hon. Friend agree that that Answer, taken in conjunction with his Answer to the hon. Member for Midlothian (Mr. Eadie), suggests that arguments about a vast increase in the price of food which we shall have to pay as a result of joining the Common Market are, to put the matter at its lowest, extremely shortsighted?

Mr. Prior

There is a great deal in what my hon. Friend says. Our estimate is that over 1970 as a whole world food prices may well show an increase of 6 to 7 per cent., at a time when the Common Market has kept its farm prices stable for the past four years.

Mr. Golding

Do not the figures also show that the attacks on us by the Conservative Party last June were completely bogus? Do not they show that the increases in food prices occurring then were beyond the control of the then Government, but that food price increases envisaged in the coming year, because of taxes put on at the ports, will be well within the control of the present Administration?

Mr. Prior

No, Sir. The point of our proposals for levies is that we should stabilise prices this year at about their present level. This will be done through the introduction of a levy scheme. Over the past five years food prices and the cost-of-living index have risen to record levels.

Sir Harmar Nicholls

With reference to the question of my hon. Friend the Member for Flint, West (Sir A. Meyer), does my right hon. Friend accept that there is nothing shortsighted in recognising that the immediate increase in food prices will reflect itself in wage demands which may well disrupt the whole competitiveness of this country at a vital time in our history?

Mr. Prior

Some of us believe that the longer-term advantages of joining the Common Market should not be judged entirely by the short-term disadvantages of higher prices for food.

Mr. Cledwyn Hughes

Does the Minister agree that if he stabilises prices at the present level, the price of cereals, for example, will be at a very high level and will inevitably result in high feed prices and create difficulties, particularly for the stock farmer?

Mr. Prior

Most of the higher prices to the stock farmer resulting from higher grain prices have already worked their way through to the consumer. Therefore, I do not think that there would be any major increase now resulting from the higher grain prices.