§ 8.15 p.m.
§ The Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. Joseph Godber)
I beg to move,That the Common Agricultural Policy (Protection of Community Arrangements) Regulations 1973, a draft of which was laid before this House on 19th February, be approved.It will be convenient, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to discuss at the same time the second motion:That the Common Agricultural Policy (Agricultural Produce) (Protection of Community Arrangements) (No. 2) Order 1973, a copy of which was laid before this House on 26th February, be approved.These two instruments are required to give the Intervention Board for Agricultural Produce the powers it will require to protect the large sums it will be handling in implementing the common agricultural policy in the United Kingdom. I apologise at once that the order is a No. 2 order. The reason is that two errors were made in the preparation of the schedule to the order which were not discovered until after it had been laid. These errors were very small and would have made little difference to the powers 1801 of the board, but they were errors and we thought it essential to correct them.
As the House will be aware, the Community system of support which goes under the general name of "intervention" falls under five main heads. The first is import levies which will be dealt with entirely by the Customs and Excise. The second is support buying, which is what is generally understood by the word "intervention". The third is export restitution by which exporters are given a grant equivalent to the difference between Community and world prices. The fourth head is production subsidies for certain commodities, and the fifth is export levies which apply to only a very few commodities. This system demands the payment of considerable sums of money which are directly derived from FEOGA— the European Agricultural Guidance and Guarantee Fund—but which are financed initially by the British taxpayer. It is essential that these funds should be at least as adequately protected as the guarantee payments under our own system of support.
We have devised these instruments very much on the same basis as our Protection of Guarantee Orders. They require people engaged in trade in the various commodities listed in the two schedules—those subject to regulations under the common agricultural policy of the EEC and enjoying various forms of support on the EEC system—to keep and retain records and to produce them on the request of an authorised officer of the Intervention Board or of the Agricultural Departments. They also provide that authorised officers may enter on land used in the production or processing of these commodities and may inspect the commodities and take samples and may require the production of books, accounts and records. Similar provisions are laid down in respect of export levies which are part of the EEC system, though at the moment export levies are required only in respect of olive oil, starch, glucose and milk powder.
In view of the sums of money likely to be involved, I am sure the House will agree that it is only common prudence to take the necessary steps to arm the Intervention Board with adequate powers to police the operation of its many and various functions, to prevent fraud, as 1802 far as is possible and to discover at once if any fraud has been perpetrated. We do not intend to seek any new or Draconian powers but merely to apply to the new EEC situation powers of the kind that have been used over the last 25 years to protect our own guarantee system.
We have listed in the schedules to the two instruments in some detail the commodities which are subject to these powers and which benefit from some type of EEC support. This gives a clear indication of the coverage of the system and makes it much clearer than any omnibus phrase would do precisely what the extent of the two instruments is.
The items covered are listed in the terms used in the relevant Community regulations which almost invariably employ the Brussels tariff headings. It seemed to us sensible to use this method so that there could be no doubt that the coverage of these instruments and that of the EEC regulations was identical, since the regulations are now part of our law and it is the payments under them that the powers that we are giving the Intervention Board under these instruments are designed to protect. Some of the regulations certainly include in their coverage products which would not normally be regarded as falling within the ambit of the product with which the regulations normally deal—for instance, potato starch in the cereals regulation and fresh grapes in the wine regulation. We have had to take account of this.
It might seem surprising that two statutory instruments of almost identical wording are needed to protect the Community arrangements. This is partly due to the very wide coverage of the common agricultural policy which extends to silkworms on the one hand and biscuits on the other, and other things that we do not easily think of as agricultural products. In Section 6 of the European Communities Act the Government did not wish to take any new powers or adopt any new system of control for what had been dealt with as agricultural products in the Agriculture Acts of 1947 and 1957 and therefore directly applied the powers already existing in the 1957 Act to such products. For the rest, it is necessary to use the more generalised powers existing in the European Communities Act. This certainly 1803 makes for some repetition but also, I think, for some degree of clarity.
The simplest way to distinguish between the two statutory instruments is to say that the No. 2 order deals with the 1957 Act and the direct agricultural products as considered in Community legislation. The regulations deal with agricultural products derived from original agricultural products.
Those are the salient points on this safeguarding series of Statutory Instruments, designed to secure a proper check on public moneys expended in this way, and I commend them to the House.
§ 8.21 p.m.
§ Mr. Norman Buchan (Renfrew, West)
I listened with a good deal of attention to the Minister's introduction of the two instruments. I am pleased that he decided to present them, because they are important. He was unable to be present on the last occasion when we discussed agricultural instruments, because he was unwell. In the old days when I was a Minister, when people asked how I was my wife used to say "There is nothing wrong with him that a little change of policy would not cure" The same may be true of the right hon. Gentleman. I know his sincere dedication to agriculture, and he cannot be happy with the spate of measures on which he is embarking in this adventure into Europe.
I accept the Minister's explanation of the instruments. To a large extent they repeat the powers of the 1957 Act, with certain changes in the schedule. I doubt that it is sufficient to say that they reflect the powers we had before in relation to our own traditional valuable agricultural policy.
The Minister said that a lot of money is involved—he is right there—and that the taxpayer had to be protected. The wide powers of entry are necessary to prevent fraud. The Minister said that no new or Draconian powers were being introduced but that the measures merely applied to the EEC situation the powers that we had before. That is what we question. We have to ask whether the effect as opposed to the form of the measures is the same. In other words, what is the reality with which they are designed to deal?
1804 The need for powers of entry under the 1956 Act was to protect the taxpayer in a situation in which the powers of entry, the investigations, reports and statistics were used to provide a support mechanism for British agriculture, with financial payments and guaranteed prices to secure the right food prices for the people. That reality, however, has altered. The situation is now totally reversed. The powers of entry and recording are now being used to provide the necessary flesh and bones of an agricultural structure that is designed not to improve agriculture, not to produce a low pricing policy for the British people, but to secure a high pricing policy for the EEC, to which we shall have to pay an inflated proportion of the budget costs.
The considerable powers to which the Minister referred have to be seen against a use of the powers which is not fundamentally in the interests either of British agriculture or of the British people. It is true that the powers existed. Section 6(3) of the European Communities Act provides thatSections 5 and 7 of the Agriculture Act 1957 (which make provision for the support of arrangements under Section 1 of that Act for providing guaranteed prices or assured markets) shall apply in relation to any Community arrangement for or related to the regulation of the market.In other words, that is a recognition that that which had been used for a support system is now used to support the high pricing system of the Common Market. It is not correct to say that the powers are the same. They have expanded into the wide processing sphere.
The Minister said that the common agricultural policy ranged from silkworms to biscuits. I understand that the poor old British biscuit is now subject to five different mechanisms before it can be exported. That is the kind of bureaucracy that the measures conceal while repeating the old powers. This bureaucracy can be seen in the definitions contained in the schedule to the regulations. Hitherto the definition referred to live animals of the bovine species. That is bad enough but it now becomes:Edible meat of bovine species, salted or in brine, dried or smoked.Bacon cannot be called bacon. It is calledMeat and edible meat offals of domestic swine, salted, in brine, dried or smoked.1805 The language reflects the bureaucracy of which it is a part.
Another new element is the export levies. The Minister listed the forms of support of the common agricultural policy. The fifth item was the export levy It is not a structure—or even a term —that is widely known in this country. I understand that it deals with commodities which are in deficiency within the Common Market and the export of which it is wished to discourage. The levy is a curious counterpart to the export restitution that we normally provide.
The levy covers olive oil, starch, glucose and milk powder. I find this interesting because it relates to some of the other discussions which we have had in this House. There is reference to processed milk, and I immediately think of aid to Bangladesh which is concerned with processed products. Will we now, because of the imposition of these levies, have to cut that kind of overseas aid?
I wish to contrast these provisions with the provision of overseas aid because this helps to bring into focus the purpose of so many of the powers that are being given in these instruments. Part of the process and the returns covered by these regulations, for example on cereals, involves a policy the end of which is the destruction of food.
I should like to cite some of the things with which farmers will now have to deal. The Home Grown Cereals Authority, in a document dealing with the denaturing process, sets out to give advice to farmers on how to denature cereals. Let me tell hon. Members who have never heard the term that it involves the destruction of food for human consumption and turning that material into something else. This is what is to be done under the common agricultural policy.
The document states:The EEC arrangements are a market management device designed to sustain the traditionally high-priced market for milling wheat; to divert wheat from milling to animal feed by making the grain unsuitable for human consumption".Specific instructions are given about how to remove food from human consumption for the purpose of fufilling this market management process to sustain the tradi- 1806 tional high-priced market. I regard this as immoral.
There is a description of the methods by which our farmers will have to embark on a process which I am sure will be incredibly distasteful to them. We are told thatNot less than 40 metric tons of cereals must be denatured in one day.And in terms of fishmeal,Not less than 50 metric tons in 30 days, or 20 metric tons in a working day of 8 hoursThis is 1984 bureaucracy. It is the kind of detail for which the authorities are now asking.
I was interested to read a recent answer given by the Minister of State for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. He was asked whether he wouldmake a statement on the availability of blue dye or fish oil as specified by the European Economic Community Regulations for the purpose of denaturing wheat; and what alternative dyes may be used.His reply was as follows:The blue dye specified in the European Economic Community's regulations dealing with the denaturing of wheat is Patent Blue V. It is in short supply just now, but fish oil is readily available. In view of the shortage of Patent Blue V it has been agreed with the EEC Commission that four other dyes may be used in the United Kingdom until 30th April 1973. These dyes are amaranth, orange G, indigo-carmine and green S."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 27th February 1973; Vol. 851, c. 334]That is pure poetry—for the purpose of destroying human food. This is one of the aspects which we must examine when dealing with these instruments. I am not accusing the Minister of encouraging that sort of detail but it is part of the structure to which this spate of measures leads us.
The next matter I want to consider is the extension of the bureaucracy. I should like to refer to Part 15 of our 42-part set of regulations—among the thousands of regulations which we must now obey. I looked at the kind of forms which our farmers are to be asked to complete. There is a section on mules, and there are pages of instructions to be read before returns can be made. I refuse to believe that this kind of bureaucratic monstrosity should apply to the kind of forms which farmers have become accustomed to completing in the past. The document in question extends to 1807 page 63 before we come to the end of the instructions which are said to guide farmers. Come friendly form and fall on the Ministry of Agriculture!
This is only one of a spate of regulations now coming in, unscrambling the British structure. This week we have seen documents dealing with bacon and sugar. These all have the same effect, namely, of loosening our control over our own food and prices policy—a system which is essential to our well being—and of linking it to a system based on a procedure that is hostile to British food needs. It is a system that is based on high prices and, as I have shown, it is based on denaturing processes.
The effect of all this is to throw into question the kind of decisions which we should be making about our agricultural policies, decisions which I suspect will be coming in any day now. Our own decisions on our own agricultural policy will be equally subject to ratification, approval or disapproval by the EEC.
One reason for the delay, if it is not the election in France, is the whole pricing problem facing the Common Market. That is the background against which these instruments must be judged, and it is necessary to spell out these matters before we can decide to approve them.
On Monday we discussed the order affecting bacon. We challenged the Minister on the effect of it. Bacon is referred to in these instruments asedible meat of the swine species.The Minister assured us that the price increase would be of the order of ½p a pound. Within two days we read in The Times that Sir John Stratton, Chairman of the British Federation of Bacon Curers, predicted a wholesale price increase of at least 5p a pound on British bacon if the phase 2 proposals of the prices and incomes policy were implemented. He said that British bacon had not been classed as a processed food and that if it had been controls could have been maintained. However, it is classed as a fresh food and therefore the price can increase.
We want to know the truth. If Sir John Stratton is right and it is a fresh food, it means that the ½p assurance that we were given on Monday about the 1808 effect of beginning to phase out bacon stabilisation is nonsense because freedom will be given to the trade to increase the price without control by 5p a pound. If Sir John Stratton is right it will result in an increase which is 10 times the percentage figure given on Monday about the effect on the cost of living.
A similar position has arisen with regard to sugar which is also one of the items related to these instruments. I draw attention to the article in Wednesday's Financial Times about the anxieties which have been expressed about the future of Commonwealth sugar exporters and the effect of a surplus of sugar in the Common Market on the inability of the world market to absorb this extra quantity of sugar.
The third item is the curious reference to butter and the unloading of surplus butter in the Common Market. This debate is a useful opportunity to refer to it and we should like an answer tonight. Are the British people to get the same benefit of a reduction in butter prices as that now being given to the EEC countries?
This week we have had the processed food announcement. We have had the Price and Pay Code. Incidentally when one bears in mind that the hottest item in Britain at the moment is the rapidly increasing price of food, when the British people see the number of exclusions which are made, from auction marts to fresh foods, they will not be greatly comforted when they examine the code which is supposed to keep down prices.
We have seen the way figures have gone in recent weeks. For example, the Grocer index says that in six months last winter between the beginning of November and the end of April, food prices rose by 1.2 per cent.—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. E. L. Mallalieu)
Order. The hon. Gentleman is slipping a little away from the subject matter of these instruments.
§ Mr. Buchan
I agree that I might be just a little Mr. Deputy Speaker. I was merely about to point out that because of instruments of this kind beginning to come in, the price increase of 1.2 per cent. 12 months ago has shot up to the figure of 7.3 per cent. over the four months of this winter, which is six times the rate of increase shown 12 months ago.
1809 It is against that background that the instruments have to be judged. Their form repeats the requirement under the 1957 Act, and only by analysing the background in this way can one decide whether to approve them.
I think I have said enough to show that the Opposition do not regard this as being the simple proposition that has been advanced. I accept the form. The content is the same but the background and the purposes to which these measures apply are very different.
§ 8.40 p.m.
§ Mr. Richard Body (Holland with Boston)
The hon. Member for Renfrew, West (Mr. Buchan) has given us only a soupcon of the nonsense that goes by the name of the Common Agricultural Policy. I suggest he was right to touch on some of those commodities, and in particular, in the light of the way in which these orders have been phrased, to refer to wheat and the way it has been denatured.
I, as a livestock producer, register my own protest at the way feedstuffs that I have to use must now be more expensive because we must now use denatured wheat at a price which I know only too well. My right hon. Friend may doubt my purchases but if I show him the bills he will not doubt the difficulty that some of us will have in making a profit at the end of the year when we could be buying other raw materials for these compounds. As to the reference to bacon—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. E. L. Mallalieu)
Order. That seems to me to be outside the statutory instruments.
§ Mr. Body
I felt that one ought to follow the practice of replying to what may have been put on the other side, and when the hon. Gentleman referred to bacon he passed over the fact that because of what is flowing from this order, and other matters connected with it, the Hungarian bacon industry is now coming to an end altogether. The Polish bacon industry has decided—
§ Mr. Nigel Spearing (Acton)
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. In the schedule to the regulations, unnumbered, I read under "Cereals" a reference toother preparations of a kind used in animal feeding.I should have thought that was what I heard the hon. Gentleman refer to.
§ Mr. Body
I certainly do not wish to stray out of order, for there is enough to be said on this matter. Butter is one of the commodities listed here and if it is right that there is now to be a huge mountain of it, I hope that, rather than ship it to Hong Kong at 2s. a pound, perhaps we shall have an opportunity of feeding it back to the cows, as was the practice a few years ago in the Community when feedstuffs in the Community contained 6 per cent. butter in order to get rid of the butter mountain. We may return to that.
My comments on this will be disjointed, with the result that they may be as inaccurate as they are prejudiced, but I regret to say that some of us had an opportunity of looking at these orders only a few hours before this debate began. Therefore, I apologise for not having been able to give any notice to my hon. Friend who will reply tonight of the criticisms I have to offer. I hope that what I say will not be too inaccurate as a result.
These instruments are creating new criminal offences which it seems are punishable by imprisonment. This is a serious matter for the hundreds of thousands of people who may come within the scope of these orders. At one point I tried to count the new crimes that are to be created. I failed because there seemed to be rather a lot of them. I do not want to refer to a reductio ad absurdum but as I read it—I may be corrected in due course—even sweet lavender sellers, if there are any left in Piccadilly, can be stopped by an inspector and asked to produce any accounts they may have at any time. As I understand it, day or night—not even at reasonable times—according to one paragraph in these orders.
A tobacconist can be knocked up and required to give a sample of his goods—a few ounces of tobacco—and no payment given.
My house can be entered, my deep freeze probed, and a pound of pork chops 1811 removed provided they have been produced on my farm, again without payment.
Indeed, the paddy fields of England can be specifically entered upon. I cannot speak about my constituency, because it does not have any paddy fields, but there must be some in England if they are specifically included. Those who own the paddy fields of England—
§ Mr. Body
I thought a constituency interest from Yorkshire was being mooted. Wherever these paddy fields may be, they can be entered upon by an inspector and any accounts or books relating to their activities can be examined.
The rule of law is infringed because these statutory instruments do not define other than vaguely, indecisively and approximately, these new crimes. We are giving the Intervention Board considerable powers of deciding what information it requires and what rights its inspectors will have in entering, when they will enter, and what accounts and books relating to certain activities they will be entitled to examine.
This is a serious departure from past practice. There has been nothing like it previously. I regret that we should have it now. I assume that we are bound to have it not because my right hon. Friend wishes it but because we are bound to conform to regulations and procedures designed for us in another country and which we now have to take over.
I am deeply concerned about some of these powers. I hope that in replying to debate my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Home Affairs and Agriculture, Scottish Office will tell us more about them.
The kind of records that can be examined by the inspectorate go much further than those which I thought my right hon. Friend had in mind when he spoke about common prudence, policing the operations, and protecting public money. I submit that under article 5 an official of the board or the Ministry can examine any book, account or record of an activity or transaction in the possession of a farmer, shopkeeper or wholesaler who is concerned with the buying or selling of the items set out in the schedule.
1812 I invite my hon. Friend to tell us whether it is necessary to extend the powers quite so far. Indeed, I suggest that it would be impossible to give the Intervention Board greater powers than these to inspect the books, accounts or records of hundreds of thousands of farmers, shopkeepers and wholesalers.
Another serious aspect is that all this is to be done by notice. The Intervention Board has power to give a notice setting out what individual farmers and shopkeepers are required to disclose by way of information. This notice is to be sent by post to the last known abode of the recipient. It can also be handed in. In the case of a company it can be handed in to the secretary or any clerk of that company. I do not want to be frivolous, but it seems possible that some flighty little "temp", who may be in an office on a Friday afternoon and about to leave that engagement, may be handed a notice. She may or may not hand it to a responsible employee of the company. Once it is delivered into her hands, that is sufficient. From that time forth the company will he breaking the law and can be fined, and it would seem that certain of its officers could be sent to prison, if the terms of the notice are not complied with. These are greater powers than the board need have.
I applaud any effort by the Government to keep an eye on public expenditure. That is an excellent objective. I applaud any attempt in the Ministry or any part of it, including the Intervention Board, to keep a check on public expenditure, but this is going much too far. It infringes the rule of law because it creates a crime which it does not define. It hands over to others, the Intervention Board acting in good faith, the function of saying what the particular crime will be. This House will not have that function.
That seems wholly wrong and indefensible and, I suspect, without precedent. It goes much further than it should. For that reason I regret enormously that the powers here are much greater than they need to be. That must be a matter for very real regret.
§ 8.52 p.m.
§ Mr. Douglas Jay (Battersea, North)
These are certainly very remarkable 1813 measures. I thought the Minister's reticence in introducing them showed that he was rather ashamed of what he had to defend.
There are constant references in them to the Intervention Board, but I noticed that the Minister, when giving a description of the functions of the board, never mentioned the denaturing of cereals and other foodstuffs. My hon. Friend the Member for Renfrew, West (Mr. Buchan) said that one of the purposes of the Intervention Board would be to destroy, to render unfit for human consumption, perfectly good foodstuffs in this country. Before we end this debate the Minister should tell us whether that is true. I think it will come as a surprise, not only to hon. Members but to people outside, that the British Government in 1973—it sounds more like 1984—is positively setting up an organisation one of whose functions will be to destroy human food so as to hold the price to higher levels.
Of course if the Minister can give us an assurance that the Intervention Board will in no circumstances without specific approval by Parliament denature or destroy human food, we shall be very glad to hear it. Then this debate will have achieved at least something. If he cannot give that assurance I am afraid that that is the only conclusion which the public can draw. The purpose of the Intervention Board so far as we know, whether by these means or others, is simply to hold up the price of food paid by the consumer in this country. That is its whole purpose, by one means or another, and the very existence of the power and establishment of the board, and the introduction of these orders to give it the necessary power, in themselves give the lie to the contention that we have constantly heard from the Government that they have no power to prevent the rise in food prices that is going on.
In one debate on one day we are told that we cannot have controls over the price of food because it is outside the power of the Government to take such action, yet tonight we have powers given by these statutory instruments to a board whose whole purpose, if any, is to prevent prices from falling, and that exposes a good deal of the humbug of the whole business.
1814 These measures do not refer only to the keeping of orders. They include that but, as the hon. Member for Holland with Boston (Mr. Body) said, they also include powers of entry upon land—presumably that means forcible entry in the plain man's interpretation— and into buildings, and the power to require people in the food industries to keep hooks, accounts, records, and so on. These measures therefore go a good deal beyond the mere keeping of records by the Intervention Board itself. What this shows, reading these statutory instruments literally, is that the common agricultural policy will not merely, as we know, have a disastrous effect upon rising food prices in this country but will introduce a whole new series of bureaucratic controls and interventions.
It is rather characteristic of the whole business that the first time the Minister has to bring forward one of these reports he has to start by saying that the first attempt made by his Ministry was full of errors and therefore the original order had to be revised and brought before us again. The right hon. Gentleman went on to say that a large part of the bureaucratic apparatus is inspired by a desire to avoid fraud. All this proves that not merely is this policy raising food prices, with all the serious effects that that is having on our economy, but that it is also introducing an elaborate bureaucratic intervention process which has already led to administrative errors and which the Minister fears may lead to fraud on a considerable scale.
The fact is that all the worst fears expressed by those who were pessimists and critics of the CAP, which the Minister said these orders were intended to implement, have been realised. We were told in the Government's famous White Paper that as a result of the policy food prices in this country would rise by 21 per cent. a year. It is interesting to recall—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. E. L. Mallalieu)
Order. I hope that the right hon. Member will not pursue this matter any further, but will confine himself to the measures before us.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. We are not discussing the merits of the CAP. We are discussing these measures.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. The right hon. Member knows as well as I do that it is one thing to refer to the CAP, but quite another to debate it. He must not debate it.
§ Mr. Jay
Referring to the CAP was precisely what I was doing, as the Minister did, and I was arguing that it is not justifiable to give powers of this kind, which are bureaucratic and expensive, purely for the purpose of implementing a policy which has had the result of of raising prices—in respect of meat by 50 per cent. or more—and which is raising retail prices—
§ Mr. Godber rose—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. The right hon. Gentleman must pay attention to the remarks of the Chair in this matter. He is now again debating the common agricultural policy and its effect.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. That is the answer that the right hon. Gentleman gave me last time. He is now referring to it again and persisting in referring to it. That must not be done. That becomes a debate.
§ Mr. Jay
I was saying that I do not believe that we are justified in giving legal powers to this board to carry out a policy which has had these disastrous consequences which are principally to be seen in the rise in prices which has already occurred. Therefore, I hope that the Minister will be able to tell us whether it will be among the powers of the board and among its functions to destroy food which is fit for human consumption, as 1816 my hon. Friend has suggested it would, and whether he believes that the purposes of this policy justify these rigorous powers which he is asking us to give the board.
§ Mr. Godber
I do not wish in any way, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to encroach on what you have said, but I felt that I must rise when the right hon. Gentleman said something which was totally incorrect in regard to the effect of the common agricultural policy on the price of meat. That was utterly and completely wrong.
§ Mr. Jay
I am afraid that, on that, I must disagree with the right hon. Gentleman, since he is already imposing an import duty, for instance, on mutton and lamb, as part of this policy, which obviously must have had an effect on the price. But I wonder whether he could give an assurance that these powers will not be used for the purpose of denaturing perfectly good human food.
§ Mr. Godber
Since the right hon. Gentleman challenges me on this, perhaps I had better point out that the point of denaturing perfectly good human food is to render it in precisely the same form as wheat, which is used in feeding animals now. Denaturing is not the same as destroying. Such food is used for feeding animals, which are then used for human food. At present, there is milling wheat and feeding wheat. The fact that feeding wheat is now denatured makes no difference to its ability to be used as food for animals, which are then used as food for human beings. That is a basic fact of agriculture.
§ Mr. Godber
I have just told the right hon. Gentleman precisely what denaturing is, and I am surprised at his ignorance of it. As he will find, if he asks anyone in the farming community, this is done merely to enable one to distinguish between the type of wheat used for human food and the type used for animal food. That has been traditionally done. The fact that it has not been actually denatured in the past has not affected the position.
§ 9.3 p.m.
§ Mr. James Kilfedder (Down, North)
The Minister said that these instruments are an aid to the Common Market and that they are necessary because of the wide coverage of the European Economic Community. I agree that they are for the protection of the Common Market, but they are neither clear nor are they for the assistance of the ordinary farmer, who has a tremendous amount of work to do on his farm to make his living without additional labour.
On behalf of the farmers of Northern Ireland—I am speaking particularly about them, although I think that my remarks apply to all farmers in the United Kingdom—I should like to register my protest, albeit, at this time of night, briefly.
I cannot comprehend these instruments. Perhaps it is because I left my practice at the Bar in 1970 to devote myself full-time to my constituency. I am in some confusion over their interpretation. The last paragraph of the Common Agricultural Policy Regulations 1973, although it may make sense to the bureacrats of the Common Market, states:A reference in this Schedule to any specified commodity shall be construed as a reference to everything (whether live or dead) which is for the time being subject to Community arrangements for or related to the regulation of the market for that specified commodity and not to anything which is not so subject.Perhaps the Minister will translate that sentence.
I wish to ask my right hon. Friend to deal with some of the commodities and their descriptions as set out in the schedules because I find myself in some confusion. To take one example only, in one measure the commodity of wine is described asfresh grapes other than dessert grapes".It is not the trouble I am facing about which I am concerned, but that which the ordinary farmer will face on his farm. This applies particularly to the small farmer.
As my right hon. Friend said, these measures require the keeping and production of records. I fully appreciate that farmers have had to keep records in 1818 the past. I am speaking of the burden on the many small farmers in Northern Ireland. According to the Ministry of Agriculture, half the farms in Northern Ireland are regarded as small farms. The small farmers have found it difficult enough in the past to cope with paper work, but now they are faced with the reading and interpretation of hundreds of regulations to which reference has already been made by both the right hon. Gentleman and my hon. Friend.
There will also be the imposition on the farmer of the maintenance of books, accounts and records far in excess of anything they have had to keep in the past. I pity the poor farmer.
In addition to this onerous task added to the burden he already has of trying to make a profit from his land, the farmer is now faced with the powers contained in these measures of entry on to his land and into his building at any time.
I await with great eagerness the reply of the Minister, but I look upon these innovations with regret and disdain. I was born on a farm and so my sympathy has always gone out to the farmer. I suppose I am therefore biased in favour of the farmers, a bias I do not regret. I feel particularly sad tonight about the future indicated by these measures. We have here the manifestation of a monster European Economic Community bureaucracy.
My right hon. Friend, in opening the debate, spoke about the powers to police which are given to the Intervention Board by these measures. As my hon. Friend the Member for Holland with Boston (Mr. Body) has pointed out, these measures create new crimes. We ought to be very careful about taking part in creating offences. These are new crimes which will be the result, not of decisions initiated in this House, but of decisions made outside the jurisdiction of the United Kingdom.
Following on the remarks of the right hon. Member for Battersea, North (Mr. Jay), I regret that Britain is committed in these orders to the denaturing of cereals and other foodstuffs. I appreciate what my right hon. Friend says, that the wheat and cereals can afterwards be used for feeding to livestock. But we have here a provision for the destruction of food for human consumption when there are 1819 countries—I think immediately of Nepal —where there is famine and where people are crying out for food.
I promised to be brief. I conclude by saying that I am waiting in anticipation to hear from my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary just how many inspectors will have to be appointed to go around farms and visit farmers, snooping into their buildings and on their land, and snooping into their books, in order to make sure that the orders of Eurocrats in the EEC are obeyed by those who in the past have been providing us with food at a very reasonable price.
§ 9.11 p.m.
§ Mr. William Small (Glasgow, Scotstoun)
I am rather mystified by some of the legal concepts behind these measures. When my hon. Friend the Member for Renfrew, West (Mr. Buchan) was describing the dye colours, I remembered that when I was a boy at school I used to get a sheet of white paper and draw in red, white and blue upon it. Nations have fought over the upholding of those colours as a symbol of a free society. To that degree the description of the changeover from British institutions to European institutions is confusing and mystifying.
I wish that a Law Officer had been present to help me on this. I am dealing with the difference between the two instruments, one of which does not have a number the other of which is numbered 288. I am a member of the untutored proletariat. I have always doffed my cap to the man with the umbrella and the bowler hat This is to be his aidememoire, and he must know more about it than I know. But I have to explain it to my community. On page 2 of the unnumbered regulations—there is nothing there but a blank—the following appears:The Interpretation Act 1889(a) shall apply to the interpretation of these regulations as it applies to the interpretation of an Act of Parliament.Coming to the next one, the order numbered 288 states:The Interpretation Act 1889(a) shall apply to the interpretation of this order as it applies to the interpretation of an Act of Parliament and as if this order and the order hereby revoked were Acts of Parliament.Now we enter into the plural. To what Acts of Parliament are we referring? 1820 "1889(a)" cannot have the same meaning when being used singularly in the first instance and plurally in the second instance. That is what confuses me about these measures. So it is natural for me to request an interpretation from the legal adviser of the Department. On that ground alone I could make a long speech of protestation. However, I take the point and I do not accept the Minister's position in terms of denaturing, because denaturing preserves the better quality and provides for a new selling price. The idea of a pro rata agreement is that no producer will produce any more than 60 per cent. across the board, and the grain growers' organisation will protect prices.
The concept of planning for foodstuffs does not balance the sensitive problem of denying that food for human consumption in the underprivileged areas of the world. I remember what happened about the surplus of milk in Britain. It was to be put down a mine shaft and destroyed, but a contract was then entered into to turn it into powdered milk and redistribute it to a starving community. It is these elements and the symbols behind the written word that need a great deal of examination.
§ 9.17 p.m.
§ Mr. Nigel Spearing (Acton)
These orders about agricultural records bring to mind the period, which was mentioned by the Minister when he introduced them, of the previous agricultural system in this country. I recall that at that time a campaign was waged by hon. Members of this House against the incursions of the State, of inspectors, of agricultural executive committees and of various organs of executive Government prying into the private accounts of farmers in this country. There were complaints and questions. Indeed, as I have said, there was a campaign.
All of us know and understand the prized independence of agricultural men as regards the way they manage their farms and, in particular, the little bit of profit they manage to get from the produce they are able to grow and to sell. Therefore, anything which deals with the records of agricultural business is bound to cause a great deal of feeling in the country, as indeed are these powers under these orders to inspect the books and the profits on any of the commodities mentioned in the schedules.
1821 At that time my then hon. Friends were arguing, and with effect, that the reason for those records was to enable the housewife to get food at a relatively low price and the farmer to receive a relatively high price. The social reasons behind the orders were accepted as being a good objective. At that time it was considered a reasonable price to pay in terms of these agricultural records, which the Minister said in his introduction were not, in basis and in substance, any different from those we have before us today.
Therefore, I think he has to tell us why, in presenting very similar orders, he justifies these exactly similar powers by rather different objectives. He said they were for the purpose of protection—the protection of large sums. He did not specify the amount or mention the range. He did not say whether they were larger or wider. He did not mention the cost of applying these regulations. If they are the same as the regulations they replace under the former system, perhaps he will tell us. If it requires a very expensive system of inspection and standards of inspection which he will not decide—because it may be that he has no choice and that the standards will be imposed on him from elsewhere—then he should tell us, and also tell us the cost involved.
He mentioned that there were five reasons why these records have to be kept. The first of these was import levies, and I assume, therefore, that every importer of any of the products mentioned in the schedule and specified here will have to keep extremely detailed records of the import of these products and the prices, so that the levy can be imposed—a levy which of course puts up the price to the consumer in this country, and certainly does not reduce it, as was the purpose of the previous orders.
Secondly, he said that it was for the purpose of support buying. My hon. Friend the Member for Renfrew, West (Mr. Buchan) enlarged upon that because he quoted from the parent regulations which impose upon any producer or any seller a most curious form of regulation which I do not quite follow but which has to do with the fish oil and the various dyes which would be mixed with these products. I presume therefore that any farmer or grain merchant will have to keep record books which tell the amount 1822 of fish oil which is imported into his warehouse, the numbers and types of dyes he has bought from various local chemists or wholesalers and the amount put in for each ton of grain and, if my hon. Friend is correct, the period over which all this is mixed up. These will therefore be an additional set of records, the like of which are not kept at the moment.
The Minister argued that the system was necessary to ensure that the animals got their feed. But what he did not say was—it would be illegal, if not impossible, for this material to be used for human consumption—that the record will enable inspectors to determine where the consignments were sent. But if this complicated record is not for the purpose of destroying food intended for human consumption, perhaps the Minister will tell us what it is for. Although he made a careful reply to my hon. Friend he could not deny what we all know is the fact, that these records will be kept to ensure that food grown in this country, perhaps by the hon. Member for Holland with Boston (Mr. Body), is rendered unfit for consumption by people in this country and to make sure that the grain is not used for biscuits and bread.
The British people were quite happy to accept the previous regulations, as was the hon. Lady the Under-Secretary. But I am not at all confident that the British public will tolerate regulations such as those before us which enable and require food to be made unfit for human consumption.
The Minister mentioned export restitution. "Restitution" has a wonderful, just ringing tone about it. It is restitution for something that has been taken away wrongly. It is a just-sounding word, but, as was suggested by my hon. Friend, if there is a surplus of sugar in this country the farmers who are producing too much, the merchants and the British Sugar Corporation will have to keep detailed records of the sugar they export and dump on the world markets at subsidised prices to make sure that they get their money back. That is the purpose of the regulations.
The earlier regulations, to which the Minister referred, were accepted by the farmers, albeit reluctantly, because they knew they were getting a reasonable price 1823 and they knew that the housewife was getting a reasonable price. But, as we have seen, the purpose of the new regulations is to achieve the opposite. The British farmer will have to keep records which will show what he has been paid for food which is rendered unfit for consumption. I am sure that their attitude to the keeping of records will be different from that of the last 15 or 20 years under the previous regulations and under the previous farm support scheme, which was the pride of this country and the envy of the other price support schemes in the world.
§ 9.25 p.m.
§ Mr. Buchan
With permission, I should like to reply to this interesting debate. Not one hon. Member who has spoken has felt that there is much justification for the common agricultural policy with which these statutory instruments deal. In a sense, the debate has made the point that the British people have been making in recent months when expressing their anxiety about the effects of the common agricultural policy.
There is little to which I want to reply but I must deal with one or two points. First, there is the legal point. I think I know the reason for the change in identification. However, the Solicitor-General is present and he may want to give the reason. The reason is fairly clear, but as I am not a lawyer I will not enunciate it.
Frequently in debates of this kind a moral point arises and a sense of outrage can be expressed. Clearly the whole denaturing policy that has suddenly become the main theme of our discussion is not the main subject of these measures. It has been taken by both sides of the House as a symbol of some of the errors, to put it no higher, that we see in the Common Market.
I cannot quote from the document of the Home Grown Cereals Authority because HANSARD, which was as astonished as my hon. Friends, has sent for the document so that it can be quoted accurately. The only other piece of information which I have in my hand is a photograph of a mobile denaturing unit, which denatures with a blue dye. It has a capacity of 30 tons an hour. If the hon. Member for Holland with Boston 1824 (Mr. Body) wants to get on with his denaturing, here is an opportunity. This monstrosity exists.
Of course, after denaturing the material is used as an animal feedstuff. Various dyes are used, and Milton could not have done better in describing them. The dyeing goes much further than a means of identification. It is done for the purpose that I enunciated in quoting from the Home Grown Cereals Authority's regulations, as part of the marketing arrangements in conformity with the high price policy of the Common Market.
It is no use Conservative Members, including the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, who is responsible for food prices, muttering that the grain is still foodstuff and that unless we are all vegetarians we can eat the meat that comes from this coloured foodstuff. I have never seen a purple cow, but we may yet see it.
The whole point is to make food dearer. As soon as another stage is added in the mechanism of converting grain to animal to meat, we subtract energy. As Einstein said, energy is not infinite in its potential. The hon. Member for Down, North (Mr. Kilfedder) said that if food is not needed here, it is needed somewhere in the world. The indictment is that the policy is to put up prices and prevent such surpluses being used in other more useful ways.
There will be an addition to costs. With the extension of the regulations, and normal investigations in relation to the deficiency payment and all the other regulations that I know too well, the whole investigation into processing and manufacturing, involving as it does the whole aspect of import and export levies, restitution and all the rest, we go beyond the good relationship that existed with the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. The matter now cuts across a whole number of Departments. It is a big operation, often for a small purpose. There will not be much in the way of export levies to consider, but the mechanism must be created.
Has there been an estimate of the additional cost? The Prime Minister's promise was not only to cut prices at a stroke but to cut the number of civil servants. A third promise was to cut public expenditure. The number of 1825 pledges that must be fulfilled over the next week or two is remarkable. How many additional civil servants will be needed? The Government had better not bring in too many. On Tuesday the civil servants showed that they have quite strong teeth, so the Government had better treat them better than they have over the past few months in the wages freeze.
Clearly, there is dissatisfaction with the statutory instruments. It arises not from their formal structure but from the new and inverted purpose for which they are being used.
I cannot advise my hon. Friends to divide the House. Perhaps we should have done so—
§ Mr. Buchan
The right hon. Gentleman should not tempt us, but a Scotsman's word is his bond, and I shall not divide the House. We have made our point. As not a single voice has been raised in favour of the measures except from the Government Front Bench, enough has been said to show what is thought of them and the policy they represent.
§ 9.32 p.m.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for Home Affairs and Agriculture, Scottish Office (Mr. Alick Buchanan-Smith)
The one thing that does not surprise me is that the hon. Member for Renfrew, West (Mr. Buchan) does not propose to divide the House. After the beating the Opposition have sustained in the past few days they are probably ashamed to put anything further to the vote this week.
We have had a wide-ranging debate. I have rarely in a debate in recent weeks heard so much contrived exaggeration and misrepresentation. Anyone who has taken an interest in our Common Market debates appreciates that those who take part include Members who will use any occasion, such as the present, to parade their prejudices about Europe, at the same time revealing their ignorance of both the current regulations under our own agricultural policy and farming practice on the farms of this country. For those reasons, I want to deal with some of the more general points that 1826 have been raised, but I turn first to more specific matters.
I always enjoy the interventions of the hon. Member for Glasgow, Scotstoun (Mr. Small) here or in Committee. They always bring a note of originality to our proceedings. The hon. Gentleman asked why one of the statutory instruments was in draft form and the other was in a numbered form. The order in the numbered form has already been placed and is already in effect, subject to the approval of the House. The regulations do not come into effect until the House has approved them. The other difference is that they are under different parent legislation. The order comes under one of our Agriculture Acts and the regulations come under the European Communities Act.
The hon. Gentleman also asked me about the differences between article 2(2) of the orders. It is not a matter that calls for pin stripes or a black coat. I do not have either. It is a matter for a schoolmaster, perhaps for the hon. Member for Renfrew, West. It is simply a matter of grammar. In the one case the article refers to two orders, the current order and the order that is revoked, whereas in the other the reference is only to the one order.
I will not be drawn too far into the question of costs because an intervention policy raises the question of the cost of agricultural policies generally. It involves enormous assumptions about the level of prices. In recent months, because of the world shortages of many of these commodities, intervention has not been taking place. To enter into any debate about costs would be to embark upon an hypothetical argument.
Hon. Gentlemen opposite have used this occasion for totally misrepresenting the current food price situation. I thought that we had enlightened the hon. Member for Renfrew, West on Monday evening. We clearly failed, although I thought that he was listening to the debate. The Minister of State and I referred to the figure of ½p per pound of bacon and we were referring to the increase of £25 per ton in the price of bacon whereas he has taken a hypothetical figure given by the Chairman of the Fat stock Marketing Corporation dealing with the price that bacon may 1827 reach at some unspecified future date. If he wants to play around with hypotheses he is entitled to do so but I ask him not to misrepresent what I and my hon. Friend said quite specifically earlier.
§ Mr. Buchan
I do not have HANSARD in front of me but it will make interesting reading. It was not a figure of it was £25 a ton. If that is divided we end up with 1p per pound. That was why we challenged the figure of ½p. The argument is about the definition of bacon, and whether it is regarded as a fresh food, which puts it outside controls, rather than a processed food. It is on this assumption that the trade expects an increase of 5p per pound in the wholesale price. The answer about the ½p increase is irrelevant because the definition is different. That is the point the hon. Gentleman has to answer.
§ Mr. Buchanan-Smith
The hon. Gentleman has demonstrated even more fully than in his speech that he was not listening on Monday evening. On that occasion we had a discussion of what was meant by an average. Although he is a schoolmaster the hon. Gentleman apparently does not understand English and has been unable to explain this situation to his hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Scotstoun. Nor does he understand mathematics and how averages work. As this was explained at great length I do not propose to weary the House by going into it again. The hon. Member can read it in HANSARD over the weekend. The position is explained quite clearly.
What has been said by hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite about food prices and the European Community is nonsense.
The trouble is that hon. Gentlemen opposite are not prepared to look further than their own noses. They are not prepared to look at the world situation or to take account of the relationship between supply and demand. So long as they are blind to these natural economic forces, nothing that I say will shake them out of their ignorance and remove the blinkers firmly placed on either side of their heads.
§ Mr. Buchanan-Smith
No, there is no world shortage of those commodities. Equally, I ask my hon. Friend what effect on the food index in recent weeks the price of milk has had. Of course it has had none.
§ Mr. Jay
As the hon. Gentleman is so keen on calling everyone but himself ignorant, may I ask him whether he has read the report of the committee which the Government set up at Christmas to inquire into the rise in meat prices? Did he note the passage in the report to the effect that as a result of EEC policies it was unlikely that meat prices would fall from their present excessive levels?
§ Mr. Buchanan-Smith
Has the right hon. Gentleman looked at the relevant levels of prices in this country and the EEC? By comparing them he will get a better idea of the relationship between our prices and EEC prices.
Meat prices and the prices of imported foods are a worldwide phenomenon which does not simply affect the EEC countries. The phenomenon affects the Argentine and has made a difference in the trade of Australia and New Zealand. It is not unique to the EEC.
§ Mr. Jay rose—
§ Mr. Buchanan-Smith
As the right hon. Gentleman raised these points, it is important for me to answer them to put the record straight.
Hon. Members have referred to the denaturing and destruction of food. My right hon. Friend said that there was no question of destroying food for human consumption. With respect to my hon. Friend the Member for Holland with Boston (Mr. Body), if he had followed what has been happening in farming operations in recent weeks he would have known that because of denaturing the price of cereals to livestock breeders in this country has been reduced.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. I do not under stand what has happened to the debate. We are miles away from the statutory instruments.
§ Mr. Buchanan-Smith
In reply to my hon. Friend, they are both forms of feeding stuff. Wheat is a major source of energy in livestock production, and denatured wheat is cheaper. I suggest that my hon. Friend discusses this with his farming friends. We have heard hair-raising stories about colours and other forms of denaturing, but there is nothing new in this.
The hon. Member for Scotstoun mentioned milk powder being put down a coal mine. That is far more serious than denaturing.
§ Mr. Buchanan-Smith
With great respect, Mr. Speaker, these points were made and I am merely seeking to answer them. This is not a new point. These orders are needed to carry out the denaturing process and to enable us to inspect the records of those involved, and denaturing is therefore relevant. There-fore, I believe that it is helpful to explain what happens in terms of the operations carried out by those whom the orders will affect.
The principle of denaturing is not new. The hon. Member for Renfrew, West was a Minister who was responsible for agricultural matters and I would remind him of what happened to potatoes. They were treated with dye and fed to animals. There is nothing new in this. It happened under the Labour Government in terms of imported wheat which was used for animal consumption. That, too, was denatured. That was accepted at the time by Labour Members, and it demonstrates the sheer hypocrisy of what has been said by them today.
Let us be clear what some of these agricultural surpluses are to be used for. They will not he put down a coal mine. Let us remember what the EEC countries did when they sent skimmed milk powder to Bangladesh. This is an example of surplus foodstuffs being used to assist in world disaster areas.
§ Mr. Buchan rose—1830
§ Mr. Buchanan-Smith
No, I shall not give way.
I turn to my last point and I apologise, Mr. Speaker, if I have taken up time in dealing with the other points which were raised, but I thought it right to put the record straight.
To deal with the order itself, questions have been raised about powers of inspection, entry and so on. I wish to make it absolutely plain that these are not new powers, as some Labour Members have tried to portray them. With great respect to my hon. Friend the Member for Holland with Boston, we are not creating new crimes and there is no serious departure from what has happened in the past. My hon. Friend was wrong to say that there has been nothing like this in the past. He said that he suspected that this order was without precedent. I assure him that it is totally within precedent. There have been precedents under the Labour Government—
§ Several hon. Members rose—
§ Mr. Buchanan-Smith
No, I am sorry I cannot give way. Time is getting on and I have already been generous in giving way. The powers in this order are similar to the powers under previous protection of guarantee orders. They are similar to what was contained in the Agriculture Guaranteed Prices and Assured Markets, Fatstock (Protection of Guarantees) Order 1958, Statutory Instrument No. 958 of 1958. In that order there was a provision relating to records in the following terms:Every person who buys, sells or transports any fatstock … shall produce on request such record for inspection …Later in that order we find powers of entry and to obtain evidence. We see there reference to an authorised officer being enabled…at all reasonable times to enter upon the land used for the production, slaughter or sale of livestock …and so on. And I could go on and on.
I should also like to refer to Statutory Instrument No. 187 of 1969 dealing with the Eggs (Protection of Guarantees) Order There, under a Labour Government, we find similar powers in relation to the marking of containers, restriction on sale and the keeping and production of records. There are further provisions dealing with right of entry, the right to 1831 demand production of books, accounts and records, and the service of notices. When we look at the small print we see the same kind of powers as we find in the present orders. I have a whole sheaf of these orders from past years which were in operation under the Labour Government, and indeed under its Conservative predecessor. There is nothing new in what we are doing tonight.
I want to assure my hon. Friend the Member for Down, North (Mr. Kilfedder), who expressed great worries on behalf of smaller farmers in Northern Ireland, that we are not placing upon them any greater obligation or intrusion on their privacy than at present. I am sure that if my hon. Friend asks them, as I have asked farmers in my own constituency, they will not object to the proposed benefits any more than they objected previously to the benefits under our guaranteed price system.
It is true that the one difference is that there is a certain widening in terms of the number of those covered by the order compared with previous orders. But there are reasons for it. There are many more types of people involved in the receipt and payment of subsidies under this system than under the United Kingdom system of guaranteed prices. They include producers, manufacturers, exports, merchants and so on It is difficult to list them without running the risk of leaving someone out. The use of the phrase "any person" may worry my hon. Friend. This is no different from phrases that we have used before such as "No person shall", "Every person shall", and so on.
There will not be an enormous number of bureaucrats going round requiring these provisions to be complied with regardless of need. I was surprised to hear the right hon. Member for Battersea, North (Mr. Jay) raise this bogy, suggesting that there will be armies of bureaucrats imposing their will on farmers. After all, it was the right hon. Gentleman who once said that the gentlemen in Whitehall know best. If the right hon. Gentleman studies the order, he will see that the need to keep records is only imposed, if so required, by a notice in writing served on the person concerned by the board. I give the undertaking that the board will not serve 1832 such a notice other than to a person who has received a direct financial benefit from the Community arrangements or has incurred a direct financial liability as a result of them. There is no intention of employing these powers any wider than is absolutely necessary.
Whatever hares and whatever scares right hon. and hon. Members may raise, when it comes down to the application in practice of a policy which will benefit the British farmer and the producer and through them the consumer, I do not think that anyone will be resentful of the powers that we are taking.
§ Question put and agreed to.
That the Common Agricultural Policy (Protection of Community Arrangements) Regulations 1973, a draft of which was laid before this House on 19th February, be approved.
That the Common Agricultural Policy (Agricultural Produce) (Protection of Community Arrangements) (No. 2) Order 1973, a copy of which was laid before this House on 26th February, be approved.—[Mr. Godber.]