HC Deb 25 March 1976 vol 908 cc607-10
5. Mr. Brotherton

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food by how much the green pound differs in value from the Irish green pound.

Mr. Peart

The United Kingdom green pound equals 1.75560 units of account and the Irish green pound equals 1.69653 units of account.

Mr. Brotherton

Will the Minister take steps to give the British farmer the benefits that the Irish farmer gets from the value of the green pound? Will he tell the House by what date he expects to be able to bring the green pound into line with the value of the pound sterling?

Mr. Peart

I cannot give a date. As the hon. Gentleman knows, I have made four changes—in October 1974 and in February, August and October 1975. I keep under review the level of the green pound, but I have to have regard to the interests of both producers and consumers.

Mr. Powell

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware of the constant dislocation, unfairness, loss of employment and malpractices which result from this disparity and anomaly between the two green pounds taken in conjunction with the open frontier?

Mr. Peart

I have said previously, and I made clear in Brussels, that we should have to take action if it were shown that Northern Ireland's interest was being damaged. I am watching the situation closely.

Mr. Pym

Does the Minister agree that the distortions and disparities, which are occurring at an ever-increasing pace, are so disrupting the operation of the common agricultural policy that it is seriously threatened? Does he agree that it is vital that Finance Ministers should take firm, resolute and urgent action to get the monetary situation more aligned so that the CAP can work harmoniously and properly?

Mr. Peart

The right hon. Gentleman should address that Question to the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I agree with Commissioner Lardinois, whose speech the right hon. Gentleman heard, that this is a serious matter which must be examined carefully.

Mr. Crawford

Does the Minister agree that the benefit gained by the Irish shows what can be done under self-government, and would not Scotland benefit equally from self-government?

Mr. Peart

On the contrary, it is a great tragedy that Southern Ireland is not still in the British Commonwealth as well as in the EEC.

13. Mr. Stonehouse

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what further adjustment is required in the green pound and other factors affecting domestic prices of food in view of the continual decline in the value of sterling; and what effect these changes will have on the prices of staple foods during the next 12 months.

Mr. Peart

There is no requirement to adjust the green pound because of changes in the market exchange rate of sterling, but I keep the green pound under review. As no change in the green pound is currently being made, the second part of the Question does not arise.

Mr. Stonehouse

Does my right hon. Friend agree with the figures given by Commissioner Lardinois last Tuesday— that the Community paid a subsidy to Britain of £190 million last year, which is equivalent to about one third of the subsidies paid on food, and that currently the Community is subsidising British food to the extent of £15 million per month? As the fall in the value of sterling against European currencies since the last adjustment in the green pound last October is 8 per cent., is not another adjustment required soon?

Mr. Peart

I naturally accept that a fall in the value of sterling tends to increase the price of imported foods, although this increase may be offset for a number of major agricultural commodities by the operation of the MCAs. That is why I agree with Mr. Lardinois.

Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop

Would not it be better if the right hon. Gentleman announced a 5 per cent. limit on the disparity between the green pound and the exchange rate? It is no good the right hon. Gentleman quoting how many times he has altered it. The pound goes down and down. Will not he announce a limit so that, when it is reached, there will be an automatic devaluation? That is what the industry needs.

Mr. Peart

I cannot accept the argument about an automatic devaluation. I have answered that before. But I have made four adjustments, and I keep the matter under review.

Mr. Torney

Is my right hon. Friend aware that Commissioner Lardinois, talking in London this week about the terrible mess of the common agricultural policy, suggested that Britain should reconsider her decision to lower food subsidies? Is not this a very good idea? Will my right hon. Friend allow food subsidies to continue as they are, because of the ever-rising cost of our food?

Mr. Peart

That is another matter which is not covered by the original Question.

Mr. Watt

Does the Minister agree that the present disparity with the green pound is encouraging racketeering in the movement of grain and meat between the various countries? Can he say whether the Commission is looking into the many rackets going on at the moment?

Mr. Peart

I can only repeat what I said earlier. Naturally, I am concerned with matters affecting the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic, and I have stated that we are watching the position carefully.

Mr. Cryer

Does my right hon. Friend agree that on Tuesday of this week Mr. Lardinois also said that unless we had economic and monetary union, the EEC would collapse? Does my right hon. Friend agree with that view? Will he encourage the revision of our own independent currency to bring about the collapse, which is perhaps about the best thing that could happen for British agriculture?

Mr. Peart

We must look at this matter constructively. I will not commit myself on matters which need careful study. However, my hon. Friend and others who are anxious to destroy the common agricultural policy do not realise how that will endanger our food supplies.

Mr. Pym

Does the Minister appreciate that Mr. Lardinois did not use those words? He said—and I repeated it today—that unless the monetary distortions and disparities were ironed out, the common agricultural policy would not have a chance. That is the important point, and that is what I asked the Minister to urge upon the Chancellor of the Exchequer.

Mr. Peart

Yes, I agree with the right hon. Member for Cambridgeshire (Mr. Pym). My hon. Friend had got the wrong end of the stick.