HC Deb 20 July 1978 vol 954 cc771-3
6. Mr. Marten

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what further reforms he has in mind for the common agricultural policy.

Mr. John Silkin

I set out the Government's position on the reform of the CAP in my speech to the House on 21st March.

Mr. Marten

On a more peaceful, all-party basis, does the Minister recall the resolution of this House, passed with the full-hearted consent of the Opposition in July last year, calling for easier access into the United Kingdom of efficiently produced foodstuffs from outside the EEC, which, I am sure, would reduce the cost of food? What have the Government done about that and what success has been achieved? If little progress has been made, can the Minister explain why?

Mr. Silkin

The hon. Gentleman puts his finger on a very important point. It remains very much part of the policy of Her Majesty's Government that there shall be a freer importation of foodstuffs into the Community. I sometimes get the impression that as regards EEC Minissters of Agriculture we, like the Red Queen, have to run merely in order to stand still. We have managed to preserve some importation of beef, as the hon. Gentleman knows, to preserve the importation of butter from New Zealand and, I think, to preserve the importation of lamb from New Zealand. I do not regard that as anywhere near sufficient and I doubt very much whether he does.

Mr. Watkinson

Now that the CAP is under review at the highest level in the Council of Ministers, will the Minister ensure that a paper is put in from the British Government extolling the merits of a deficiency payments system to support farm income rather than the end price system at present being adopted in the Common Market?

Mr. Silkin

I accept very fully that the real problem of the common agricultural policy is exactly that question of the creation of surpluses of food in order to put them into store rather than into the mouths of human beings. To the extent that the intervention system as we know it contributes towards that situation, Her Majesty's Government will be stating and have frequently stated exactly where we stand on this matter. We are totally against a system which encourages storage and does not encourage the consumption of food.

Mr. Watt

Is not the Minister aware that British farmers cannot wait indefinitely for a reform of the CAP? As the benefit of the devaluation of 7½ per cent. has been totally swallowed up, will he, even now, pay some attention to the SNP's proposal that he should move forward to a system whereby there is a devaluation of 1 per cent. per month until we come much nearer parity on food prices with our EEC partners?

Mr. Silkin

I rather thought that that proposal had died of old age, but if it is still on the table is answer is "No, Sir". We have the interests of our own people to follow. We have to deal with them. Even the right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Peyton) is modifying his position. Surely it is time the SNP began to think about it, too.

Mr. Torney

In view of the utter futility of the common agricultural policy and its effect on the British food economy, would my right hon. Friend consider for a start the reform of the CAP so that we have the right to buy our food from the best markets in the world and, conversely, so that individual nations within the EEC have the right to subsidise industries of their own that need subsidising out of their own exchequers?

Mr. Silkin

For many reasons, a freer trade into the Community is right. It does no harm, for example, that a butter—

Mr. Torney


Mr. Silkin

—or bacon—producing nation also imports it. So I agree totally with my hon. Friend. We must get the position more liberalised. I also agree that there needs to be a greater national say than is at present apparent in the common agricultural policy.

The fundamental reform of the common agricultural policy will not be achieved overnight. It will meet a great deal of opposition. It is none the less necessary.

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