HC Deb 16 February 1978 vol 944 cc645-6
6. Mr. Watkinson

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food when he plans next to meet the EEC Commissioner for Agriculture.

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

I have frequent meetings with the EEC Commissioner for Agriculture.

Mr. Watkinson

When my right hon. Friend next meets the Commissioner will he discuss with him the calculation of the unit of account itself? Does he agree that it is time that we considered whether the unit of account should be geared to the "snake" currencies, as this in itself produces higher prices?

Mr. Silkin

If I were to say that to the Commissioner he might get a bit bored, because I have been saying it to the Council on a number of occasions. The fact is that since the representative rates of the United Kingdom, France and Italy are very near to one another and they account for about two-thirds of the population and about two-thirds of the agricultural produce of the Community, it would be a much more sensible basis to align prices with the lowest price of those three rather than with the price of the minority of one-third, or whatever it is, that is represented by the "snake" currencies.

Mr. Peter Mills

Is the Minister aware that I could give him a list of things that he ought to discuss with the Commissioner? Will he concentrate his mind on dealing with the Anglo-French problem, which is serious, particularly for South-West producers? Will he try to encourage the Commissioner to work on this problem and open up the market again?

Mr. Silkin

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will send me his list. I promise him that I shall study it carefully. With regard to what I take to be at the top of the list, the question of the levy on British sheepmeat going into France and the discrimination in favour of the Irish Republic, the hon. Gentleman will be aware that we have asked the Commissioner to take action on this and he has done so. He has asked the French Government for a reasoned opinion, which I believe they have to supply by the end of this month.

Mr. Ioan Evans

When my right hon. Friend next meets the Commissioner will he resist the demand for the abolition of the Milk Marketing Board? Does he realise that the system we have in this country has operated to the benefit of the consumer and the producer of milk? Does he further agree that we should resist the Continental system of purchasing milk in shops and should continue with the door-to-door sales system which we have had for many years?

Mr. Silkin

My hon. Friend makes a fair point. I view with considerable alarm, as I think the whole House does, the decrease in the door-to-door sale of milk throughout the Community. I believe that only the Irish Republic and ourselves are left with this system. The experience in the Netherlands was that the whole system went in a very short time. As a result of our efforts over the past year, the Commissioner has produced proposals. I do not believe that in detail they are as good as I would like them to be, but in general terms I think he recognises that in a Community overflowing with milk, if not honey, a strong liquid milk market is an important means of reducing a surplus.

Mr. Farr

When the right hon. Gentleman next meets the Commissioner will he discuss with him the critical situation in which United Kingdom cattle finishers find themselves at the moment? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that they are faced with a situation in which costs have escalated in the past three years, while the last modest adjustment of the green pound, though welcome, has in no way compensated for stock costs?

Mr. Silkin

I am quoting from memory, but I believe that as a result of the devaluation and the general increase in the target price, prices will be about 17 per cent. up in March as compared with last year. This should be more than sufficient to meet the difficulties.

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