HC Deb 07 February 1974 vol 868 cc1359-61
12. Mr. Coleman

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what decreases bearing on food prices were approved by the EEC Council of Ministers in January 1974.

14. Mr. Molloy

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what increases bearing on the price of food were approved by the EEC Council of Ministers at its meetings in January 1974.

Mr. Godber

There were two Council decisions bearing on the price of food. One was to change the representative rate for Italian lire, of which the practical effect will be limited to Italy. The other was to remove a legal obstacle to the early introduction of a limited and temporary system of aids for private storage of beef, thus reducing the need for intervention in those parts of the Community where the market is particularly weak.

Mr. Coleman

I am not surprised at that answer; I expected it. Have any major foodstuffs been reduced in price, about which the Minister's right hon. Friend the Prime Minister can tell the housewives of Leicester?

Mr. Godber

If the hon. Gentleman expected that answer, I wonder why he put down the Question. My hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary made it perfectly clear only a few minutes ago that one foodstuff which Labour Members used as an arguing point a great deal before we entered the Community—butter—has fallen in price since we joined.

Mr. Marten

What is the Government's view about the proposed tax on surplus milk?

Mr. Godber

I have already commented on that. There are two separate proposals. One is for a general tax affecting all milk produce going to dairies. The other is a tax on milk products going into intervention. I see little merit in the first proposal, which seems to me unnecessary, but I think that the second could prove a useful deterrent to the production of surplus milk products, and therefore I intend to support it.

Mr. Molloy

Is the Minister aware of anything that goes on in his Department, other than the diktats he receives from Brussels? Is he aware that it is not particularly edifying to see a Minister of the Crown acting as an apologist for a bunch of bureaucrats in Brussels laying down their instructions and orders for the British people? This is one of the things the British people will decide to end at the forthcoming General Election. The right hon. Gentleman's rôle as an apologist for the EEC will be terminated.

Mr. Godber

The hon. Gentleman seems to be singularly misinformed about what goes on in Brussels, and his forecast of what will happen in this country is wrong. I do not accept any of his statements. In regard to what I do in Brussels, I say to him, in the words of somebody famous in the last century, that if he can believe that he can believe anything.

Mr. David Clark

In view of the high price of food, for which the Minister bears a great deal of responsibility, will the right hon. Gentleman give the House an assurance that he will not agree to any increase at a Council meeting, and that he is not running away from the three-bob loaf at the General Election?

Mr. Godber

I am not running away from anything. Requests for price increases must be considered in the light of cost increases. I have no desire to see unnecessary price rises, but one must seek to ensure that in the Community as a whole, just as in this country—[Interruption.] Farmers have had a substantial rise, and this Government will continue to support them both now and after the election.

Mr. McBride

Is the Minister aware that as a result of our membership of the EEC there has been no decrease in the price of foods that this country imports? Cheese bears a tax of £200, butter a tax of £167, and canned ham a tax of £140. How long will the right hon. Gentleman seek to give the lie to an unbelieving nation?

Mr. Godber

There is no question of giving a lie. This Government tell the truth about this and other matters. However much the hon. Gentleman seeks to distort them, the facts are that the price of butter has dropped and the price of cheese has been relatively static over the past two years. This country has had a far smaller increase in food prices than many other countries in the past year. They have risen by 20 per cent., but in the world they have risen by 50 per cent. in the same time.

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