HC Deb 19 July 1977 vol 935 cc1373-5
Q2. Mr. Marten

asked the Prime Minister whether he has any plans to visit Australia.

The Prime Minister

I have at present no plans to do so.

Mr. Marten

When the Prime Minister next meets Mr. Fraser, will he discuss with him his speech at the Mansion House on 2nd June in which he said that Australia was able to produce almost every product that is eaten in Britain at a lower cost than the EEC? When are we to break out of this Fortress Europe and start sensibly buying cheaper food outside the Common Market, where there is an abundant supply?

The Prime Minister

Let us be clear that we do not regard the common agricultural policy as best fitted to the needs of this country. However, the hon. Gentleman should acknowledge that the cry that large amounts of cheap wheat or other commodities are to be found in Australia is not true. I have just inquired about the figures. For example, the cost—[Interruption.] The information came along to me only a minute ago. I thought that I might be asked about it. The price of EEC wheat is more expensive than Australian wheat. The Australian price is £80 a ton and the EEC price is £86 a ton. Do not let anyone pretend to the British housewife that all her problems would be solved on that sort of difference.

Mr. Powell

How does the Prime Minister account for the fact that most hon. Members appear to find it difficult or are unwilling to take advantage of the arrangements that he and you, Mr. Speaker, recently made in order to secure more substantive Questions on the Order Paper addressed to the Prime Minister?

The Prime Minister

Last night I made an analysis of the 36 Questions that had been put down to me. Three are substantive, 13 asked me to state my engagements, eight asked me to put in the Library a speech which I have put there already, six asked me about my next meeting with the TUC and six asked about meetings with the CBI. The idea that good Questions drive out bad ones does not seem to hold much water.

Mr. Jay

As the Government accepted and the House approved a motion on 16th March calling for easier imports of food, is it not time that this applied to Australian beef, mutton and cheese, which is certainly available but is excluded by EEC protection?

The Prime Minister

We secured the maintenance of a system of beef premiums for the whole of the 1977–78 marketing year and we shall continue, in conjunction with Australia and other countries, including the United States, to get sensible reforms in the common agricultural policy. That does not mean, however, that we should overturn the whole of its principles. If we did, we would find ourselves up against an impossible block. When one looks at the progress which has been made in the price-fixing this year, from which I shall quote only one point—the increase of 31 per cent., which has been the lowest since we joined the EEC—it is useful to acknowledge that a great deal of progress is being made in wearing down the situation.