HC Deb 22 May 1975 vol 892 cc1593-5
6. Mr. Gould

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what imports levies and customs duties on imports of lamb, butter and cheese from outside the Common Market would cease to be payable if the United Kingdom withdrew from the Common Market.

Mr. Peart

In such circumstances, the import régime for these and other agricultural commodities would be reviewed in the light of domestic agricultural policy and the negotiations for withdrawal.

Mr. Gould

Is it not a fact that we must pay these levies and duties solely because we are a member of the Community? Does not this give the lie to the myth that these foods are as cheap in the Community as they are outside it? Could we not reduce the prices of these foodstuffs at a stroke simply by withdrawing from the Community? Is it not a fact that these quite unnecessary taxes bring no benefit to the British people, as the British Government are acting simply as tax collectors for the Community, and that this will raise prices to much higher levels by the end of the transition period?

Mr. Peart

I hope that my hon. Friend and those who are cheering him will remember that we did not have free trade in these products before we went into the Community. [Interruption.] May I give my hon. Friend the facts? There was a tariff for all lamb, including New Zealand supplies, amounting to about 8 per cent. There was a duty of about 15 per cent. on cheese imports—except those from the Commonwealth, which were duty-free. Butter imports were duty-free but strictly controlled by import quotas. I hope that my hon. Friend will realise that there is no cheap food in the world today. [Interruption.] If my hon. Friend will only have the courage to rise and put a supplementary question, I shall be delighted to answer it.

Mr. Hooson

Will the Minister confirm that the estimates for this year of the price of a carcase of New Zealand lamb show that two-thirds of the cost will arise from transport and handling charges and only one-third will be attributable to the actual production of the lamb?

Mr. Peart

Of course. The hon. and learned Gentleman is sensible and rational on this matter.

Mr. Spence

In what quantities are these foods available in the world? Are the quantities available sufficient to meet the needs of the British people at this time, by comparison with, say, 20 years ago? Has not the quantity position become even more important than the prices position?

Mr. Peart

I agree. That is why I believe that with the terms which we have negotiated—we have recommended to the country that it accepts what we have achieved—we shall guarantee supplies. That is very important in a world in which we see great fluctuations of world prices.

Mr. Cryer

Does my right hon. Friend accept that I am very willing to ask questions whenever Mr. Speaker cares to call me, and that it is not a question of courage? Will he explain just why the Common Market insists on maintaining the CAP if there is no food outside the Common Market which is cheaper than that within it?

Mr. Peart

I think it is reasonable to have a market which has been guaranteed, with prices negotiated every year, in a large community. I see nothing wrong in that. [Interruption.] I hope hon. Members will listen. The basic objectives of the CAP, balancing increased production and the interests of consumers, were precisely the basic objectives of the 1947 Act.

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