HC Deb 06 May 1976 vol 910 cc1446-8
2. Mr. Nicholas Winterton

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what consideration was given during the recent price review negotiations to the "stocktaking" document on the common agricultural policy.

The Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. Peart)

The European Commission's stocktaking report, and the conclusions drawn by the Council from its examination of it, were taken fully into account.

Mr. Winterton

Is the Minister aware that in the recent review there was no major attempt to reduce the structural surpluses that exist? When will some measure of co-responsibility be introduced so that the consumer may enjoy the benefits of such surpluses as exist?

Mr. Peart

I cannot accept that. The hon. Member knows that there was an attempt to deal with surpluses, and that has led to the controversy over skimmed milk, for example. In principle co-responsibility has been accepted, but details have to be worked out.

Mr. Jay

Is the renegotiation of the common agricultural policy now completed, or is it still going on?

Mr. Peart

It is not completed. It is an ongoing process. I have emphasised that over and over again, and we still have to get further improvements.

Mr. Pym

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that one embarrassing result of the review, in respect of milk, is that by not taking into account the recommendations of the stocktaking document the milk powder mountain across the Channel is likely to grow? Will he say what progress is being made with the scheme in this country? Are compounders able to take their money out of deposit? Is the skimmed milk powder available for them to use? Is not the real point that the arrangements made for milk across the Channel will, unfortunately, allow the mountain to remain?

Mr. Peart

I agree that the mountain is there. It was always agreed in the stocktaking discussions that there should be an attack on these mountains. There is no doubt about that. That is why I accepted the proposal in the package, and felt it right to send skimmed milk for food aid, for example.

Mr. Buchan

Is it not the case that whatever proposals may have been made to deal with the existing surpluses of skimmed milk, other decisions continue to add to the mountain? As for any achievements that we had in the negotiations on the question of a premium system for beef, surely this too is not succeeding, because we are beginning to see a beef mountain developing in this country also?

Mr. Peart

I cannot accept my hon. Friend's argument that a beef mountain is arising here because of the premium system that we negotiated.

Mr. Buchan

In spite of it.

Mr. Peart

I believe that intervention can play a part. I have always said it. Indeed, it is a safety net. But we shall rely basically on the variable premium which is working, and which, I hope, will be incorporated into the Community system.

Mr. Watt

Will the Minister impress on his EEC colleagues that the best way to get rid of the skimmed milk powder mountain is to stop all industrial fishing among his EEC partners for one year and substitute skimmed milk powder for fish meal?

Mr. Peart

I am prepared to consider some of the interesting ideas put forward by the hon. Member. It is the first time I have heard this suggestion. I am not treating it in a cavalier way; I shall consider it carefully and bear in mind what the hon. Gentleman said.

Mr. Torney

Has my right hon. Friend been into a butcher's shop recently, or has his wife, perhaps, told him about the tremendously high price being charged for prime English and Scottish beef, while large quantities of this commodity are going into intervention and storage?

Does he agree that this shows the stupidity of the CAP, which was advocated by right hon. and hon. Members opposite who are now criticising my right hon. Friend?

Mr. Peart

I have always argued that we should not rely on permanent intervention. I sought to negotiate in the Community something similar to our deficiency payments system. We have got the variable premium, but we have had a little difficulty over intervention. However, I took immediate action and withdrew from intervention meat of a certain category. In other words, intervention will not apply to it. That action has been criticised by other people, but I think it was right to take it. We have achieved success in that respect.