HC Deb 08 February 1972 vol 830 cc1110-2
2. Mr. Leslie Huckfield

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what proposals he has to explain the effects of the common agricultural policy of the European Economic Community to the British farming community.

The Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. James Prior)

I shall be using all the usual resources of my Department, including its extensive contacts with the farming community, to explain the implications of the Treaty of Accession and of the detailed arrangements for applying the common agricultural policy as they are worked out.

Mr. Huckfield

I am grateful that the Minister intends to use his Department's resources, but is he aware that next year when prices start to rise the farming community will be carrying the can for price increases? Should he not use all his resources to acquit the farming community and to make sure that the blame rests where it should, on the shoulders of himself and his hon. Friends?

Mr. Prior

I was grateful for what the hon. Gentleman started to say because I thought he was removing some of the possible blame from me to the farming community, but he continued by referring the blame back to me. The answer is that when we are in the Community prices will have to go up. We have made this abundantly plain to the public as a whole, but there will, of course, be many compensating advantages.

Mr. Peter Mills

Will the Minister bear in mind that some of us in agriculture are excited at the prospect of going into the Common Market? For the first time there will be a chance of real expansion in production and of exporting our excellent products.

Mr. Prior

I agree with what my hon. Friend said.

Mr. Alfred Morris

Is the Minister aware that the British housewife is also becoming a little excited'? What plans has he for explaining the effect of the common agricultural policy on the British consumer? Will he make it absolutely clear that, in addition to a swingeing increase in food prices, there will also be the cost of value-added tax? Will he be much more frank with the house-wife than he has been?

Mr. Prior

I do not think that any Government at any time could have put the facts more squarely to the housewife than have the present Government. That is more than can be said of the Opposition.

17. Mr. Duffy

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will seek consultations with the European Economic Community farm Ministers during current discussions to increase farm prices within the Community for the 1972–73 marketing year.

Mr. Prior

Under the arrangements agreed for the period before accession the Community will consult us before coming to a final decision.

Mr. Duffy

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that proposals for an increase on average of 8 per cent. in Community prices have been announced by the Common Market Commission? First, will he tell us what effect he expects this to have on the cost-of-living index in the first year of British entry? Secondly, will he bring this matter to the attention of his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment and urge on him the need to be more flexible towards and accommodating of the miners' pay claim'?

Mr. Prior

Until a final decision is reached by the Council of Ministers, which I think will be on 15th March, it would be premature to make any statement on the effect that this will have on the cost of living. However, I shall be making a statement to the House soon after we have the actual figures available, which we are hoping will be less than 8 per cent. We have made it clear to the Community that we think that it is in our interests to restrain Community farm prices and therefore to get a better balance between the needs of the consumer and of the farmer.

Mr. Scott-Hokpins

Will my right hon. Friend elaborate on the consultations which are taking place and have taken place with the Council of Ministers and the Commission while the proposals—they are only proposals—are being put forward by the Commission to the Council of Ministers?

Mr. Prior

My officials went to Brussels last week. Dr. Mansholt was over here last Friday, and I had a long talk with him then. I have also seen Dr. Ertl and Mr. Cointat in the last fortnight. The consultations will continue right up to four o'clock on the morning of 15th March, or whatever time they decide

Mr. Deakins

Will the Minister tell us what percentage increase he would consider appropriate, since he considers 8 per cent. too high and wants to hold the balance between the needs of the consumer and of the farmer.

Mr. Prior

It is not up to us to decide this year, although we shall be consulted about the final decision. In future years we shall be able to play a full part. In so far as there have to be increases, we would prefer them to be on livestock products rather than on cereals.

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