HC Deb 20 June 1972 vol 839 cc221-4
3. Mr. Spearing

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will list the powers he will possess if the United Kingdom becomes a member of the European Economic Community unilaterally to reduce the import levy on imported foods or prohibit export of home-produced food from Great Britain.

Mr. Prior

The determination of import levies will be for the Community institutions, in which we shall participate fully. Article 34 of the Treaty of Rome prohibits national measures to restrict exports, but the Community has wide powers to deal with market disturbances.

Mr. Spearing

Will the Minister confirm that we shall have no unilateral powers whatever in respect of either the matters contained in my Question or any others? Will he further confirm that any changes of policy must be unanimous with all Community members and that we shall have only a small voice in these matters?

Mr. Prior

That supplementary question shows how little the hon. Gentleman understands about the way the Com- munity works. It is true that we shall no longer be able to take unilateral action on a national basis, but we shall be able to play a full part in reaching decisions, which is something we have not been able to do in the last year or two and something which as regards beef is happening to us now outside the Community

Mr. Peart

In saying that my hon. Friend is not aware of these matters, is not the Minister being somewhat arrogant? Has he not proved my hon. Friend's point by his own answer? Will he spend a little more time dealing with the dangers of the common agricultural policy to British agriculture and the consumer?

Mr. Prior

Just because farmers on the whole feel that CAP is a good answer to many of their problems, the right hon. Gentleman should not cry sour grapes when he has been proved wrong.

14. Mr. Hicks

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will outline the preparatory work and market research being undertaken both by his Ministry and other organisations in respect of the potential market for exports from the United Kingdom of agricultural and horticultural products in both the existing and applicant countries of the European Economic Community; and if he will make a statement.

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

Assessment of market prospects is primarily a matter for individual industries and firms although my Ministry and our representatives in the United Kingdom delegation in Brussels and the other capitals are ready to provide all available information and advice. Work to assemble information on various aspects of agriculture and food production, consumption and trade in the Six and acceding countries is being undertaken by the National Economic Development Council and other official bodies and of course by commercial and industrial organizations.

Mr. Hicks

In thanking my hon. Friend for that reply, may I ask him to take note of the urgent need to ensure that this information relating to potential export markets is relayed back to the individual producer and individual marketing organisation throughout the United Kingdom so that they in turn can make an objective assessment of the situation which they will face when we are in the EEC?

Mr. Mills

Yes, my hon. Friend is right; this is an important subject. The information must be relayed back, and it will be. I hope that we shall have a very determined outlook on exports of agricultural products. Much work is being done to gather the right information about this subject.

17. Mr. Deakins

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will make a further revised estimate of the effect on food prices of entry into the European Economic Community in view of the current level of beef prices.

40. Mr. James Lamond

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if a revised estimate has now been made of the rise in the cost of food consequent upon British entry into the European Economic Community.

Mr. Prior

It would not be practicable to revise the published estimate at short intervals to take account of fluctuations in prices of individual commodities.

Mr. Deakins

Does not the trend in beef prices in Britain in the past year show what is to be expected in the Common Market, as high-cost agricultural production means higher prices in the shops and reduced consumption by ordinary people?

Mr. Prior

I have no reason at the moment to alter the figures that I gave to the House a few weeks ago on the actual difference between our prices and Common Market prices on the basis of the farm gate price. I stick to that.

Mr. Lamond

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the Government have attempted to reassure pensioners by telling them that they will be protected from the increase in food prices when we join the Common Market? Today the right hon. Gentleman has repeated the Government estimate that prices will increase by only 2 per cent. If this is translated into money terms, which pensioners are interested in, and if allowance is made for the fact, which has also been pointed out today, that pen- sioners do not spend all their income on food, it means that the Government are prepared to try to reassure pensioners that an increase in their pensions of about 10p will fully protect them against price increases arising from entry into the Common Market. I do not think that pensioners will for a moment accept that.

Mr. Prior

Pensioners are not being asked to accept the assurance that the hon. Gentleman has mentioned. The official estimate of the difference between our prices and Community prices, or of adopting Community prices, is not intended as a forecast of what will happen to food prices over the next few years. It is intended merely to show the difference which will apply each year between our prices and Community prices.

Whatever the actual increase in the price of food or in the cost of living year by year or year to year, this is the figure that will be reviewed each year in old-age pensions.

Mr. Clark Hutchison

What is the point of going in for a dear food policy?

Mr. Prior

It is not so much a question of going in for a dear food policy as of adopting a policy for food and agriculture which will enable Britain to produce far more food at home than it has done before and thus avoid some of the perils of the last few years.

Mr. Buchan

Why does the right hon. Gentleman deny his own policy? His own policy was to try to achieve high prices. He will recall that he told us that the British people had been molly-coddled for too long on cheap food and that prices had to rise. This was his "prior" policy. What is his policy now?

Mr. Prior

Everything I said then is absolutely true. If we had had reasonable prices for agricultural production at the time I was making those remarks, we would not have got into the muddle we have got into as a result of that policy.

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