HC Deb 29 June 1971 vol 820 cc179-92
3. Mr. Strang

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what discussion has taken place in the European Economic Community negotiations concerning production grants for hill farmers.

Mr. Stodart

I would refer the hon. Member to the statement made by my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster on 24th June.—[Vol. 819, c. 1606.]

Mr. Strang

Could the Minister be a little more specific than his right hon. Friend was on that occasion? Is it not the case than in an enlarged Community all the production grants for hill farmers will be able to continue throughout and beyond the transitional period? Can one conclude, therefore, that any phasing out of production grants which takes place during the next five years will be at the initiative of the British Government and not in response to pressure or suggestion from the Commission?

Mr. Stodart

I thought my right hon. Friend made the position pretty clear. No one can say that the present arrangements, whether or not we entered Europe, would be absolutely and utterly immutable in every detail. I certainly thought that the reaction of the President of the Scottish National Farmers Union—Scotland is more affected than any other area on this subject—that this was the best news of the week was a pretty good tribute.

Mr. Adam Butler

In view of the announced intention to withdraw up to 15 per cent. of continental land from agriculture, which I understand would be marginal or hill land, can we be certain that in the future we shall not be required to withdraw a percentage ourselves?

Mr. Stodart

It would be very unwise for any Minister of any party to express absolute certainty about anything. I use those words deliberately. But there is nothing in the Treaty of Rome which makes these subsidies undesirable or difficult to pay. I have every confidence, considering that the French already pay a headage subsidy on their breeding sheep, that we shall be able to continue to do this.

Mr. Cledwyn Hughes

Would the hon Gentleman be rather more certain and precise in his answer to the very reasonable question put by my hon. Friend? Will it be possible to continue the policy of additional production and capital grants, for example, for drainage, which are at present paid to hill farmers in Britain, on broadly the same scale and to broadly the same number of farmers?

Mr. Stodart

I would certainly think so, because the grants mentioned by the right hon. Gentleman are of a distinctly structural nature.

Mr. Scott-Hopkins

Would my hon. Friend agree that under the E.E.C. rules as long as the production grant is tied to the land is acceptable, and that under the existing Community rules it appears from the guidance lines that there will be money available for such areas as the hill areas of this country and we shall benefit greatly from this?

Mr. Stodart

I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend.

Mr. Hooson

Is it not time the Government were much more explicit on this problem? The hill farmers want to know which of the subsidies payable at present offend the Common Market code and which would be acceptable. After negotiations for years, under the previous and the present Government, the Government should now be in a position to be much more explicit about it.

Mr. Stodart

With the greatest respect to the hon. and learned Gentleman, I must again call in evidence someone whose opinion is worth a very great deal, and that is the President of the Scottish N.F.U., who has said that this is just the assurance that the union has been waiting for all along.

4. Dr. Gilbert

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what discussions he has had with officials of the Commission of the European Economic Community with respect to their proposal that the Common Agricultural Policy covers hops.

Mr. Stodart

Officials of my Department have had contact with officials of the Commission about the draft regulations concerning hops which have been submitted by the Commission to the Council of Ministers.

Dr. Gilbert

Does the hon. Gentleman realise that the effect of these draft regulations will be considerably to increase the price of British beer? We recognise the hon. Gentleman's difficulties in protecting the British beer drinker against British brewers, but may we at least hope for some support from him against the depredations of Brussels bureaucrats?

Mr. Stodart

I do not accept for one moment the hon. Gentleman's proposition. The main difference is that in this country we have hops with seeds in them, whereas the Community does not. There is quite a large body of opinion which favours seedless hops in this country, suggesting that these would give higher bittering qualities, which I should have thought would have pleased the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Cledwyn Hughes

The Parliamentary Secretary will be aware that the Hops Marketing Board has been outstandingly successful in its work. Could he indicate how he sees the future of the board if we enter the E.E.C.?

Mr. Stodart

This question has been asked and answered many times before, and I refer the right hon. Gentleman to what I have said on the subject previously.

5. Mr. Deakins

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if the Government's conservation policies in respect of inshore fishing between the 6-mile and 12-mile limits will now require any modification within an enlarged European Economic Community.

Mr. Prior

Even as it stands the Community's common fisheries policy would not entail any modification of our existing conservation measures. Nor would it restrict our right to introduce any new measures which might prove necessary provided these were not discriminatory.

Mr. Deakins

Does not the Minister's answer mean that, provided we continue with our existing conservation policies and open up our waters between six and 12 miles to all the fishermen of the E.E.C., this must inevitably reduce the catch available to British fishermen?

Mr. Prior

If we opened our waters in the six to 12-mile belt to other E.E.C. countries which at present do not have traditional rights in that belt, there would be some, but a relatively small, additional weight of fishing carried out in that area. The total catch which comes from the six to 12-mile belt is a comparatively small proportion of the total British catch.

Mr. Bruce-Gardyne

My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary told the House last week that the 6-mile limit stays as it is. Can my right hon. Friend confirm that that is, and will remain, the policy of Her Majesty's Government?

Mr. Prior

There has been absolutely no change in the position which the Government put forward at the recent discussions in Luxembourg, and those discussions will be resumed in the week beginning 12th July.

Mr. James Johnson

The Minister must admit that Belgians, Dutchmen or Frenchment will enter this six to 12-mile limit with small-mesh nets and catch fish Would he confirm that Article 2 of the Common Market Fisheries Convention would give us some help here, and that we can exclude vessels of a certain length with certain types of gear during certain parts of the year and that we can exclude them for certain kinds of fish?

Mr. Prior

I do not want to intrude on later Questions on the Order Paper. It would be entirely within our own hands what conservation policies are pursued in the 12-mile belt. If, as the hon. Gentleman says, foreigners enter with nets of a smaller mesh than we use, we can keep them out.

6 and 38. Sir D, Walker-Smith

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (1) what help, other than the payment of compensation, he proposes for the horticultural industry in the event of British entry into the European Economic Community;

(2) what is the nature and measure of the compensation which he proposes for the horticultural industry in the event of British entry into the European Economic Community; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Prior

We have secured agreement to exceptional transitional measures to help the horticultural industry adapt to the conditions that would obtain in an enlarged Community. Nevertheless, we recognise that there will be some growers who will face difficult problems of adjustment. I have given a firm undertaking to discuss with leaders of the industry the help the Government might give in such cases, but it is too soon to say what the form or extent of compensation or other help might be.

Sir D. Walker-Smith

On 8th June my right hon. Friend referred to "forms of compensation" and "or other help". Would he be a little more explicit and say whether he envisages any form of compensation other than straight monetary compensation and, if so, what? Could he undertake that these matters will be fully amplified in the proposed White Paper?

Mr. Prior

It will be too early for all these measures to be fully amplified in the White Paper because one has to form an accurate assessment of what sections of the industry, if any, will suffer as a result of joining the Community.

On the first part of the question, when I referred to "other forms of help" I was thinking of, not only compensation but perhaps additional aids, to enable people to change from one type of production to another.

Mr. Charles Morrison

Bearing in mind the increasing growth of acreage in certain agricultural crops, will my right hon. Friend consider giving a date after which he will not pay compensation on new agricultural projects so that he may pay more generous compensation to the older horticultural holdings?

Mr. Prior

I would not visualise paying compensation to growers who are at present planting up new acreages or going in for new methods of horticultural production, because presumably they are doing that now only because they see a future for it, and I am glad that they see a future for it. What we are concerned with is those who for one reason or another have large investments in holdings which might be affected as a result of our joining the Community.

7. Mr. Greville Janner

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food whether he will now give his revised estimate as to the expected rise in food prices in Great Britain if Great Britain joins the European Economic Community.

26. Mr. Adam Butler

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food when he expects to publish the revised figures of the increase in the cost of food on entry into the European Economic Community.

Mr. Prior

I have nothing to add to the reply I gave the hon. and learned Member for Leicester, North-West (Mr. Greville Janner) on 8th June.—[Vol. 818, c. 835–6.]

Mr. Greville Janner

In the reply to which he has referred the right hon. Gentleman assured the House that figures were being prepared. Is it not deplorable that the figures are not yet available? Is not the delay in producing the figures caused because food prices are constantly increasing and the longer the Government postpone the time when they estimate the increase the lower the increase will be?

Mr. Prior

The hon. and learned Gentleman must contain his impatience for another few days. The figures will be published in the White Paper.

Mr. Butler

I share the concern of the hon. and learned Member for Leicester, North-West (Mr. Greville Janner) about the need for these figures to be published. However, will my right hon. Friend confirm that they will show that the gap between our prices and continental prices will have narrowed and that this will reflect the way that continental farmers have kept down their prices as against the rise in world commodity prices?

Mr. Prior

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. World commodity prices have gone up by between 30 per cent. and 50 per cent. over the last year or so, whereas the E.E.C. over the last four years has retained practically constant prices for commodities: there have been very small increases in prices. The figures which will be published in the White Paper within the next few days will bear this out.

9. Mr. W. H. K. Baker

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what further consultations he has had with the National Farmers' Union with regard to Great Britain's possible entry into the European Economic Community; and if he will make a statement.

37. Mr. Strang

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what consultations he intends to have with farmers' and farmworkers' representatives immediately after the completion of the European Economic Community negotiations.

41. Mr. Hornby

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what further consultations he has had with the National Farmers' Union regarding possible entry into the European Economic Community.

Mr. Anthony Stodart

My right hon. Friend will continue to maintain close contact with the farmers' representatives and will be glad to consider any views farmworkers' representatives may wish to put forward.

Mr. Baker

Can my hon. Friend give an assurance that when it comes to negotiating the change over from one system of price support or subsidy to another the National Farmers' Union will be consulted at every turn and not presented with a fait accompli?

Mr. Stodart

Yes, Sir; I can indeed give that assurance.

Mr. Strang

Will the forthcoming White Paper give us a real indication of the changes that will have to take place in the structure and organisation of our marketing boards?

Mr. Stodart

I do not think that is very relevant to the Question that the hon. Gentleman has tabled. If the hon. Gentleman will table an appropriate Question I shall be delighted to answer it.

Mr. Hornby

To what degree has the National Farmers' Union expresed satisfaction with the progress so far made and announced in the negotiations and, in particular, with the announcements made about horticulture?

Mr. Stodart

The N.F.U. has taken note of the progress made so far. It has asked that it should receive details as progress is made. The N.F.U. realises— indeed, neither my right hon. Friend nor I has ever made any bones about this— that there will be certain difficulties for horticulture, but I do not think these should be exaggerated.

Mr. Alfred Morris

Is the Parliamentary Secretary aware that there are those on both sides of the House who welcome the improvement in his health and his return here?

May I ask the hon. Gentleman whether he will be discussing with the N.F.U. the very serious difference between the interpretation of the terms for New Zealand made by President Pompidou and that given to the House of Commons last Thursday by the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster?

Mr. Stodart

I am greatly obliged to the hon. Gentleman for his opening remarks.

My recollection of what the Deputy Prime Minister of New Zealand said was that New Zealand was thoroughly satisfied with the package deal. I do not think anything that President Pompidou says is in contradiction of that.

Mr. Cledwyn Hughes

Referring to the Parliamentary Secretary's rather brusque reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, East (Mr. Strang) about the attitude of the N.F.U. to marketing boards, is it not the case that the union is very concerned about the future of the boards and particularly of the Milk Marketing Board? In the light of this concern, which is generally shared in the House, will the Minister consider including in the White Paper an indication of how the Government see the future of the boards if we enter the E.E.C.?

Mr. Stodart

That is a slightly different question. The hon. Gentleman invited me to say specifically whether a reference would appear in the White Paper, but his Question makes no reference to this and concerns discussions with the farmers' unions. I am perfectly prepared to put this point to my right hon. Friend.

10. Sir C. Taylor

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if member States of the European Economic Community can regulate the size of netting used by fishermen in their waters.

Mr. Prior

Members of the European Economic Community have power to apply conservation measures to protect stocks within their fishery limits provided they do not discriminate on grounds of nationality. However, the most important regulations governing the mesh of nets are those adopted by the North-East Atlantic Fisheries Commission, which apply outside national fishery limits as well as inside, and which are binding on members of that Commission whether or not they are in the European Economic Community.

Sir C. Taylor

Can the member States of the Community take any other conservation steps which may be considered appropriate to their own waters?

Mr. Prior

Yes; within their 12-mile limit they can. The only stipulation is that the measures must not be discriminatory between one nationality and another. In so far as they fall within the 12-mile limit, an individual nation can take whatever conservation measures it wishes to.

Mr. Tinn

In the event of British entry to the Common Market, what proposals has the Minister for strengthening the fishery protection service, which at its present strength is clearly inadequate to do that work?

Mr. Prior

This is a very important matter which has been raised with me by the inshore fishing industry on several occasions and which I take very seriously. The Government will be looking into this.

Mr. Kimball

Is my right hon. Friend aware that this is not just a question of net size and boat size? We have recently negotiated with the Danes a fixed quota on the number of salmon that they are allowed to take out by drift netting? Will these arrangements stand once Denmark joins the E.E.C.? Will my right hon. Friend consider this very important point?

Mr. Prior

This is again a matter of conservation. We shall wish to pursue with Denmark and other countries all matters of conservation.

Mr. Cledwyn Hughes

Will the right hon. Gentleman clarify a very important answer to a previous Question on this issue? Is he saying that after the five-year transitional period this country can exclude foreign fishing boats from the outer six-mile limit?

Mr. Prior

I do not want there to be any misunderstanding on this. The proposal we have put to the Community is that between the 6-mile and 12-mile limit from 1973 those who have traditional fishing rights should be joined by the rest of the E.E.C. countries, but that the band up to six miles is exclusive to us.

12. Mr. Marten

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, what steps he is taking to prepare to harmonise food prices with the European Economic Community.

Mr. Prior

There is no question of harmonising retail food prices, which vary widely within the Community. Farm gate prices will be brought gradually into line with Community levels under the transitional arrangement already announced.

Mr. Marten

If the Community harmonises its value-added tax and decides to place it on food, shall we have to follow suit, or can we opt out specifically on food?

Sir G. Nabarro

Do not be silly. You cannot opt out of anything.

Mr. Prior

That question is really not for me but for my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer. All the harmonisation we have to undertake at this stage with the Community is harmonisation of farm gate prices. This will still lead to enormous variations in retail prices, and certainly to lower prices for us, chiefly because our retail system is much more efficient.

Mr. Heffer

The Minister cannot slide out of the question as easily as that. The truth of the situation is that he knows that one of the first harmonisation programmes in the E.E.C. is of taxation and V.A.T. Will he now reply to the point made by his hon. Friend? Will the V.A.T. apply to food once the harmonisation programme is put into operation? If it is insisted that it shall apply to food, what will be the Government's attitude?

Mr. Prior

That is a hypotheical question. It will depend entirely on what happens after we join the Community, but, as the hon. Gentleman knows, it is not the Government's policy to put a value-added tax on food.

13. Mr. Laurance Reed

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what consultations he has recently had regarding Great Britain's possible entry into the European Economic Community with British fisheries organisations.

Mr. Prior

My officials have been in frequent touch, particularly with the British Trawlers' Federation and the Fisheries Organisation Society, and I have met the latter twice in the past fortnight.

Mr. Reed

My right hon. Friend will know that fish, being itinerant creatures, derive no special advantage from flying under the flag of one nation as against another, and are totally oblivious to the phoney frontiers we draw in the marine environment. As, therefore, effective conservation of living resources of the sea is so self-evidently an international exercise, does he agree that the anxieties expressed about the common fisheries policy are, to say the least, somewhat exaggerated?

Mr. Prior

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that lengthy and erudite supplementary question. There are genuine anxieties on the part of the inshore fishermen, and the Government are determined to allay them. But I hope that they will not over-state their case and not pay too much attention to some other people who perhaps are not so interested in fisheries but have hopped on that band wagon for other reasons.

Mr. McNamara

The Minister has spoken of his discussions. In view of the statement by the British Trawlers' Federation, will he be having discussions with its representatives before the meetings in Brussels on 12th July?

Mr. Prior

Yes, Sir. We have arranged to see the B.T.F. before 12th July.

Mr. Wall

Will my right hon. Friend remove another worry? If we are to allow our partners in the E.E.C. to come within our 6-to-12-mile limit, will he make certain that our vessels will be allowed within the 6-to-12-mile band of the Six and the four associated States?

Mr. Prior

That is a very important matter, in which my hon. Friend is rightly extremely interested. What is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.

Mr. Maclennan

Will the Minister consider entering into discussions with the E.E.C. about the possibility of having a variable withdrawal price to enable fishing ports, particularly of the inshore fleet, far from the central markets to benefit to a greater extent than they would if there were a flat rate?

Mr. Prior

This is another very important point. It has been the subject of negotiation in the secondary legislation committee in which we are concerned at Brussels. The hon. Gentleman's point will be well taken care of in the course of the negotiations.

17. Mr. Homby

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what arrangements are now proposed for the marketing of Great Britain's apples and pears if the United Kingdom joins the European Economic Community.

Mr. Prior

Adoption of the Community's common organisation of the market would not affect the industry's general responsibility for the marketing of home-grown apples and pears.

Mr. Hornby

Does not my right hon. Friend agree that effective marketing arrangements are vital for the future of the industry? What discussions has he had with representatives of the Six to ensure that the market does not become excessively glutted by too much low grade continental production?

Mr. Prior

This will not happen during the period of transition because we have made arrangements to cover it. After the period of transition is over, and long before that has come about, negotiations must take place on proper marketing, and I hope that this will involve the present members of the Community in getting their surplus production under control.

Mr. Strang

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware of the concern felt by the Apple and Pear Council regarding the imminent removal of import quotas? Is he prepared to reconsider, even at this stage, the possibility of extending the life of these quotas?

Mr. Prior

I am aware of the concern in the industry about this. We cannot continue with the quota system as such, but the other arrangements we have made for the introduction of a levy, which will be phased out over the period of transition, will, I think, give approximately the same degree of protection as diminishing or extending quotas would.

Mr. Crouch

Does my right hon. Friend agree that one of the ways in which those very efficient British producers, the horticultural growers of apples and pears, can protect themselves is to develop their marketing right down to the wholesale market, so that they have some control over the eventual purchase of apples and pears by the public?

Mr. Prior

Yes, of course. I think that the vast majority of the apple and pear growers, who are producing a high quality of product, will find a ready sale for these commodities after entry into the E.E.C.

Mr. Buchan

Has the time not come for the right hon. Gentleman's annual message of encouragement to the British housewife—that if she cannot afford apples and pears she will have to eat peaches?

18. Mr. David Clark

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what regulations there are in the European Economic Community in relation to lamb.

Mr. Anthony Stodart

There is no common organisation of the market in the Community for sheep meat but there is a common external tariff of 20 per cent.

Mr. Clark

Does the hon. Gentleman appreciate that there is considerable concern in certain quarters in this country about the presence of draft regulations at Brussels relating to sheep meat? If these draft regulations become effective, can he offer any assurance to British and New Zealand sheep farmers?

Mr. Stodart

There are many restrictions among different countries at the moment but I believe, as New Zealand believes, that an acceptable volume of trade will continue to jump over the 20 per cent. tariff, and New Zealand has accepted that access will be both adequate and remunerative. In the case of any regulations brought in before our entry, we would hope to be consulted and we certainly would be consulted if they were brought in after entry.

Mr. Jay

Do I understand from the hon. Gentleman that if we joined we should then have to impose a tariff of 20 per cent. on lamb imported from New Zealand and Australia?

Mr. Stodart

We would phase in a 20 per cent. tariff against third countries gradually if we were to join.

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