HC Deb 10 June 1976 vol 912 cc1647-8
3. Mr. Banks

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what is the current level of imported produce compared with the same period last year.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. Gavin Strang)

Imports of food and animal feeding stuffs in April 1976 were 4.8 per cent. higher by value and 3.5 per cent. lower by volume than in April 1975.

Mr. Banks

I thank the Minister for that reply. Is it not the case, however, that the monitoring of supplies coming into this country from outside the EEC is slow and that publication is often too late to allow action to be taken against distortion of the market? Would not the answer be to activate the reference price system for products on prevailing wholesale prices related to economic prices for the producers?

Mr. Strang

I believe that the hon. Gentleman is thinking particularly of horticultural products. I do not think that that would be applicable to main agricultural commodities. The reference price system has a rôle to play, and it does so in the context of the Community's arrangements.

Mr. Torney

Will my hon. Friend tell me whether it is a fact that British butter is going into intervention? If that is true, would it not be in the best interests of our country if we were to sell the butter to the housewife instead of importing so much German and French butter and using our vital foreign currency when it is not necessary to do so?

Mr. Strang

That is a big question. It is certainly true that some butter has gone into intervention. The main reason for that is the transitional step. When it is known that there is to be an increase in the price, the Continentals ship butter into this country to take advantage of the increase. That means that there is a temporary surplus. I think that my hon. Friend will support our policy of expanding home production.

Mr. Torney

What is the good of its going into intervention?

Mr. Blaker

Is it not a fact that in the horticultural sector there have recently been substantial imports of tomatoes? Are the Government still making an effort to secure equality of competition between ourselves and the Dutch growers as regards the cost of fuel, or have they given up the attempt?

Mr. Strang

I think the hon. Gentleman will be aware that the guidelines for oil subsidies terminate at the end of this month and that we are opposed to any extension of the guidelines. We should not lose sight of the fact that competition from Holland has been affected by the depreciation of the pound.