HC Deb 12 April 1973 vol 854 cc1483-6
Mr. Marten

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will make a statement on the EEC farm price review.

Mr. Dan Jones

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food whether he will make a statement on the latest position with regard to increases of food prices proposed in the Council of Ministers of the EEC.

9. Mr. Deakins

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will make a statement on the EEC farm prices for 1973.

Mr. Godber

The Council of the Agricultural Ministers of the Community continued its discussions on 9th and 10th April on the proposals for changes in farm prices and the related proposals for adjustments in monetary arrangements. It also gave further consideration to proposals for encouraging a switch from milk to beef production, and for aid to producers in hill and maintain areas. All these questions were examined in some detail, but no final decisions were reached. The council will meet again on 16th and 17th April.

Mr. Marten

May I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Minister on his very tough stand in attempting to keep prices frozen as far as possible with no general broad increase? If my right hon. Friend succeeds in that endeavour he will have the support not only of the House but of the whole country. On a constitutional matter, now that the European Assembly has pronounced itself against the proposal of the Commission, what notice does the Council of Ministers take of the European Assembly's decision?

Mr. Godber

I thank my hon. Friend for his comments. On the constitutional point, I think the position is that the European Parliament has an advisory rôle in this respect, but certainly the Council of Ministers takes due note of what it says. This matter has figured in discussions in Luxembourg this week. I cannot at the moment forecast what the final outcome of the discussions will be, but they are continuing next week.

Mr. Jones

Is the Minister aware that many of us in the House, and certainly people in the country, believe that the ability to control United Kingdom food prices is now more a matter for the Council of Ministers than for any United Kingdom Government? A frank statement to that effect from the Minister today would be gratifying.

Mr. Godber

The Council of Ministers has a duty within the Community to determine price levels, and that is what we are engaged on at the present time. Certainly, at the end of the transition period these decisions will be reflected in United Kingdom prices. At present this is not the position, because we have this staged arrangement over the five years, during which prices are gradually raised. Therefore, any arrangements arrived at this year in Brussels will have only a marginal effect on United Kingdom prices now.

Mr. Cockeram

Will my right hon. Friend assure us that the next time the disposal of surplus food stocks arises the British delegates will feel free to vote?

Mr. Godber

My hon. Friend does not appear fully to appreciate the position. The British delegates felt perfectly free to vote on the last occasion. They decided to abstain in the company of one other country, no country voting against. The British delegates decided to abstain for a number of reasons. These quantities had been produced before we became members, there was the question of deterioration of stocks, and the Commission has to judge what are the best steps to take when a surplus has been created. It was for the Commission to decide the correct way in which to deal with this.

Mr. Deakins

Since the main purpose of the common agricultural policy is to produce higher incomes for farmers, which must inevitably mean higher prices for consumers, will the Minister in his study and review of the CAP from now on, and particularly at next week's meeting, press for a consumer price review so that the Common Market may at least begin to take some steps to stabilise food prices to the consumer.

Mr. Godber

The question of the consumer has been much in mind in all our discussions in Brussels. It was at the British instigation at the November meeting that a provision was inserted into the resolution approved by a joint meeting of the Finance and Agriculture Ministers earlier that the position of the consumer should be constantly borne in mind. At our meeting in Luxembourg this week and again at the meeting of OECD Agriculture Ministers in Paris yesterday I reiterated the strong view that we must take account of the position of the consumer in all the decisions that have to be taken, and this is very much in our minds.

Mr. Brewis

If the Opposition want to fight in favour of holding down consumer food prices, would it not be better if they attended the European Parliament, where they would reinforce the Conservatives with their votes and counteract the votes by the Liberal representatives?

Mr. Godber

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. I know that Labour Members were very anxious to cash in on the actions of Conservative Members, and it it a pity that they did not go over and take part.

Mr. Buchan

Will the Minister tell us what would be the effectiveness of adopting the course he has suggested, since the European Parliament is disregarded and since our representatives abstained? Will he tell us just what value we are getting out of the European Parliament? Does he agree that the present EEC policy has now slid into ridicule, down the slippery slopes of the monstrous mountain of butter, and that the £12 million that this will cost the British taxpayer could have provided every old-age pensioner with a quarter of a pound of free butter every week between now and the end of the year?

Mr. Stodart

I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman's assessment. If he and his colleagues took part it would help to make the European Parliament more effective. It is not a bit of good saying—[Interruption.] Opposition hon. Members do not seem very clear about the position. It was not in the European Parliament that any abstention took place. They should at least understand the way in which these things work. In the Parliament a clear decision was taken. The abstention took place in the Management Committee on Milk Products, acting for the Commission. That was a perfectly proper action to take, and I have given the reasons for it.

The way in which the Labour Party has acted has not helped the Government in seeking to influence the European Parliament in a way which would help consumers in terms of food prices in the Community.

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