HC Deb 20 July 1971 vol 821 cc1233-40
2. Mr. Deakins

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food how United Kingdom farmers will now be recouped for annual cost increases in the event of United Kingdom membership of the European Economic Community following the conclusion of negotiations.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. Anthony Stodart)

I have nothing to add to the reply my right hon. Friend gave to the hon. Member on 20th April.—[Vol. 815, c. 365.]

Mr. Deakins

Is the hon. Gentleman aware of the great concern, at least on this side of the House, about the low level of farm wages in this country compared with other incomes? What remedy can the hon. Gentleman suggest if we are to adopt an agricultural policy which keeps farm prices unchanged for periods of up to four years or more while they are eroded by rising costs, which leads to a reduction in real net farming incomes?

Mr. Stodart

It is difficult to give an accurate comparison of the recoupment in the E.E.C. Because of the different system there, precise comparisons are difficult. Prices in the Community were increased in 1971–72, and an increase is proposed again in 1972–73. I read with the greatest interest the hon. Gentleman's tract on agriculture, which I regard as extremely good advocacy for the value of home farming. However, when the hon. Gentleman says in it that it is small wonder that farmers in the E.E.C. should have demonstrated earlier this year, I could not but recall that in 1970 Whitehall Place was besieged and that a little earlier an effigy of the right hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Peart) was burned.

3. Mr. Strang

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will make a statement on the progress made in the negotiations to secure a modification of the Common Fisheries Policy.

28. Mr. James Johnson

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food whether he will make a statement on the latest stage of negotiations with the European Economic Community upon fisheries policy.

32. Mr. Maclennan

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will make a statement on the most recent negotiations with the European Economic Community on the fisheries policy.

Mr. Prior

I have nothing to add at this stage to the statement made by my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster on 14th July.—[Vol. 821, c. 493–9.]

Mr. Strang

In view of the reaction of the European Economic Community to the Government's original proposals, based on retaining the six-mile limit, and the subsequent alternative put forward by the Government—retaining the present position until we enter the Community—may we have an assurance from the right hon. Gentleman, first, that in no circumstances will the Government agree to watering down the original six-mile proposals, in respect of which they have already conceded a great deal, and, secondly, that we shall have a positive decision on this matter before the crucial vote in October?

Mr. Prior

As my right hon. and learned Friend said the other day, the important thing is to get the right decision. In respect of our own position, we believe that the 0–6 mile proposal is the correct one. When the hon. Member says that we have given away a lot in that, he is not correct.

Mr. Johnson

Since the Minister represents a famous fishing port, as I do, why cannot he give the House a clear pledge that he will stand firm against any flag discrimination in the 6–12 mile belt? If he can give that assurance, will he assure the House that he will publish a White Paper after the September negotiations, telling us exactly what the issues are and what has happened?

Mr. Prior

If a decision is reached in the September negotiations, I shall certainly consider what will be the best way to inform hon. Members, because the House will be in recess at the time. Certainly, I shall consider what can be done in those circumstances. As for flag discrimination, our whole position rests on the fact that all countries—applicants as well as those which at present belong—should be treated alike.

Mr. Maclennan

Is the Minister aware that the main anxiety about his proposals regarding the 6–12 mile limit is that there will be overfishing in that area, and that although he proposes to retain national jurisdiction over the regulation of fishing in that area he has not yet made any specific proposals for protection and conservation? Will he be publishing detailed proposals, for example, regarding the size of mesh and the type of fishing to be permitted, prior to the House being asked to take a decision?

Mr. Prior

It is much too early to think in those terms, because we have not yet reached agreement on what the future limit should be. When that has been done, it will be time to consider what conservation methods are necessary.

Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop

Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that where there is a necessity for preservation against overfishing, it is traditional for every country to give preference to those who have habitually derived their income from that course, and that that is not special pleading but is a general principle that applies in international law, whether in Iceland or South Devon?

Mr. Prior

My hon. Friend knows that because we were unable to reach agreement last week we have suggested that for the moment the status quo should remain. When we have fresh negotiations in September, points such as those put forward by my hon. Friend will be taken into consideration.

Mr. Cledwyn Hughes

Although it may not be possible for the Minister to go into details in advance of the Luxembourg meeting in September, can he assure the House now that in the event of our entering the E.E.C. the Government will not settle for anything less than parity of treatment for the British fishing industry?

Mr. Prior

Certainly, the distant-water industry would feel very aggrieved if a settlement were made which precluded its fishing in certain waters but allowed other countries to fish in our waters. That is one of the issues that must be sorted out.

7. Dr. Gilbert

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what conversations his officials have had with the Hop Marketing Board about the draft regulations on hops submitted by the European Commission to the Council of Ministers.

Mr. Anthony Stodart

In addition to frequent informal contacts, my Department's officials have had a joint meeting on this subject with representatives of the Hops Marketing Board and the National Farmers' Union.

Dr. Gilbert

That must be very recently, because the hon. Gentleman may not be aware that the Hops Marketing Board told me three weeks ago that it had not had any contacts. As his right hon. Friend has just quoted the Brewers Society with approval, does he know that that Society said a few months ago that the effect of these proposals of the E.E.C. will mean the end of British beer as we know it? [HON. MEMBERS : "Rubbish !"] Those are not my words. The Brewers Society said it. Does the hon. Gentleman also know that if we went over to seedless hops, it would be at least three years before any could be produced in this country and that we would have to rely on lager-type hops from Germany in the meantime——

Mr. Speaker

Order. That is three statements and two questions. The Minister may now reply.

Mr. Stodart

The hon. Member is right : the meeting has been recent. Second, I am aware of the trials which are being done by the marketing board. The trouble is that a male hop is extremely persistent and takes about four years to get rid of, which is rather like the hon. Gentleman.

Sir G. Nabarro

Is my hon. Friend aware that Worcestershire is a premier hop-growing county——

Mr. John Wells


Sir G. Nabarro

Will my hon. Friend bear in mind that the Hops Marketing Board is the oldest, the most efficient and the most efficacious of all our marketing boards, and that we would take very unkindly to any change in its arrangements consequential upon entry into the E.E.C.?

Mr. Stodart

I would merely say again that one has only to look at my hon. Friend the Member for Worcestershire, South (Sir G. Nabarro) to realise that he lives in a major hop-producing area, whereas I noticed the other day that the hon. Member for Dudley (Dr. Gilbert) is regarded not as a great beer drinker but as one who prefers dry martinis.

Mr. John Wells

Would my hon. Friend rebut the terrible untruth that we have just heard about Worcestershire beer? Whoever heard of Worcestershire beer? As is well known, all hops come from Kent. Would my hon. Friend seriously consider this most important problem, since horticulturists are about to have a difficult time, as is generally recognised, and the Hops Marketing Board is of considerable importance in maintaining the stability of horticulture as a whole?

Mr. Stodart

Without wishing to be drawn into the controversy as to which is the premier hop-producing county, I can assure my hon. Friend that the Hops Marketing Board's trials are being undertaken to see whether seedless hops can be used. The prospects are optimistic.

12. Mr. Trew

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will list the provisions of the Treaty of Rome relating to Government subsidies on the cost of fuel to horticulturists.

Mr. Anthony Stodart

Articles 92–94 of the Treaty of Rome set out the rules governing aids granted by Member States. There are no provisions relating specifically to subsidies on fuel costs incurred by horticulturists.

Mr. Trew

Is the Minister aware that there is a widespread belief in the glasshouse industry that its competitors, notably the Dutch, enjoy the benefits of lower fuel costs, due partly to hidden Government subsidy? Will my hon. Friend investigate this? Will he ensure if we join the E.E.C. that our growers are not placed in a less favourable position in regard to fuel costs than their European competitors?

Mr. Stodart

The Dutch have withdrawn their interest-free loans towards purchases of fuel oil for heating glasshouses and the 75 per cent. rebate on fuel oil tax. I certainly subscribe to the second point raised by my hon. Friend in that supplementary question.

Mr. Dalyell

Never mind the E.E.C. Does the Department realise that many food growers in Central Scotland want to know what will be done for them here and now?

Mr. Stodart

That is a matter for my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State at the Scottish Office.

14. Mr. David Clark

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what efforts have been made during the European Economic Community entry negotiations to get wool reclassified as an agricultral product.

Mr. Anthony Stodart

None, Sir.

Mr. Clark

That is a shocking Answer. Does it not mean that wool is classified as an industrial product and that there will be a marked fall in returns to the sheep industry?

Mr. Stodart

No, not necessarily, because the members of the E.E.C. aid wool in other ways—for example, by large quality bonuses.

16. Mr. Scott-Hopkins

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will initiate discussions with the Council of Ministers of the European Economic Community in order to establish European Produce Marketing Boards with similar powers as those in the United Kingdom.

Mr. Anthony Stodart

It would not be appropriate for my right hon. Friend to take such action.

Mr. Scott-Hopkins

Can my hon. Friend give an assurance to the House that as far as he knows the existing marketing boards will be able to continue when we join the E.E.C.? If that is so, will it not be a logical progression for the E.E.C. to adopt our system of marketing boards, which has proved so very successful over past years?

Mr. Stodart

I have said, and so has my right hon. Friend, on numerous occasions, that we see no reason why the marketing boards should not continue. Whether other countries will wish to adopt these boards, or whether, as was suggested at a London colloquium in April, there should be a European marketing board, seems to be a matter on which there would need to be a great deal of discussion.

Mr. Deakins

Will the Minister be prepared to look sympathetically on any proposals made by the National Farmers Union in the United Kingdom for the extension of producer marketing boards to commodities to which they do not already apply?

Mr. Stodart

We have told the National Farmers Union that we are prepared to consider any proposals it wishes to put forward to us on the subject of marketing.

Sir H. Legge-Bourke

Bearing in mind that if we join the Common Market it will be considered a home market, will my hon. Friend look at the possibility of giving the Potato Marketing Board power over the distribution of those potatoes hitherto regarding as imports but which will then come in the home market?

Mr. Stodart

It is a point that I am perfectly ready to consider.

18. Mr. Bryant Godman Irvine

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food whether he will specify the commodities of particular interest to British farmers which are fully guaranteed under the Common Agricultural Policy of the European Economic Community.

Mr. Prior

There are arrangements to maintain market prices for cereals, milk products, sugar, beef and veal, pigmeat, oilseed rape, some fruit and vegetables, and eggs and poultry, but the levels of market support vary for the different products, and there is no support buying for eggs and poultry.

Mr. Godman Irvine

As the information my right hon. Friend has just given is of some significance to a great many farmers, can he not take further steps to see that that information is more widely disseminated?

Mr. Prior

I will do all I can. When farmers realise that there are intervention prices at a high level for many of the products I have mentioned, they will realise that they have a very beneficial degree of security.

Mr. Strang

Is the Minister aware that the 8 per cent. figure given by the Government in the White Paper as the likely additional expansion of home agriculture as a result of higher food prices compares unfavourably with the figure in the previous White Paper? Does that mean that President Pompidou's interpretation of what the Government have negotiated for agriculture is nearer the truth than what the hon. Gentleman has been claiming outside?

Mr. Prior

The figure in the previous White Paper was 3 per cent. to 10 per cent., and that is a pretty wide variation. We have given a specific figure of 8 per cent. I personally believe that the farming industry, because of renewed confidence resulting from what we have done, will do considerably better than that.

Mr. Body

As my right hon. Friend has mentioned sugar, can he confirm the statement or prediction made by the President of the National Farmers Union that our sugar beet growers will have 60 per cent. of the market, and not 30 per cent.?

Mr. Prior

After 1974 a new sugar agreement has to come into operation, and at that time this country, along with other countries in the Community, will have an opportunity of deciding how much extra sugar they can grow, but I would not at this time want to be drawn on an actual figure.