HC Deb 05 December 1974 vol 882 cc1925-6
13. Mr. Jay

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food whether in order to keep food prices down and strengthen the social contract, he will recommend the removal of all import levies and taxes on foodstuffs imported into the United Kingdom from outside the EEC.

28. Mr. Madden

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what is the purpose of the import taxes imposed on United Kingdom food imports from outside the EEC.

Mr. Strang

Duties and other import charges are used, in the United Kingdom as elsewhere, to provide a measure of protection for our home industry, on which we largely depend for a secure supply of foodstuffs. As members of the Community, we are applying, by transitional stages, the common external tariff and levy arrangements for this purpose. World prices for most major commodities are currently in excess of Community levels. It does not follow, therefore, that the removal of all protection would keep down food prices.

Mr. Jay

If it is really true that food available outside the EEC is not cheaper, what is the purpose of maintaining import quotas?

Mr. Strang

I am sure that my right hon. Friend will be aware that while we are implementing levies on butter, Cheddar cheese and canned ham under the Community arrangements, we are not operating a levy on certain other commodities, precisely because prices are higher than EEC prices.

Mr. Scott-Hopkins

Will the hon. Gentleman confirm that many foodstuffs that we import from the EEC are cheaper than on the world market, thanks to our membership of the EEC? Does he not agree that the reason for keeping tariffs is to stop dumping in this country from outside and to stop subsidising below economic costs of production?

Mr. Strang

That is true in the case of some commodities. One obvious example is sugar.

Mr. Madden

Will my hon. Friend say when the next round of food levies is due and what effect the present range of food levies has on the retail price index?

Mr. Strang

As EEC prices are raised, levies have to be raised unless there is to be an increase in world prices. Levies can have the effect only—after all, that is what they are designed to do—of increasing prices in the home market.

Mr. Ridley

Since it is a fact that if we were not members of the Common Market our food would probably be dearer, do we not have to look for an ulterior motive in the minds of the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) and the right hon. Member for Battersea, North (Mr. Jay)? Would not one of the strongest arguments to remain in the Community be the fact that the hon. Member for Bolsover is against it?

Mr. Strang

I do not agree with those views. I would point out that the fact that in some cases world prices happen to be higher than Community prices does not affect some of the basic criticisms which many of us have always had about the CAP, as well as our feelings on the need to renegotiate the terms of membership as they apply to this country.

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