HC Deb 22 June 1978 vol 952 cc694-5
6. Mr. Molloy

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food when he expects next to meet EEC Ministers of Agriculture.

Mr. John Silkin

I shall meet them at an informal meeting of the Agriculture Council to be held in Denmark next week.

Mr. Molloy

When my right hon. Friend goes to that informal meeting, will he formally raise the question of the remarkably disparity in, and what seems to many of us the ludricrous disposal of, the Commission's funds for agriculture? For example, £120 million a year is spent on research and investment and £9 million on the food aid programme for the Third World—while storage costs for sugar, skim milk, butter, beef and veal are now running at no less than £900 million a year. Will he raise this matter and express our disgust at the strange behaviour of these people, who are irritating and annoying millions throughout the Community?

Mr. Silkin

I have several times pointed out in the Council that the figure for storage of, I think, £960 million a year—anyway, it is in the budget—is an absolute disgrace to the Community. However, the only way in which it can be tackled is by seeing that the institutional prices come down in real terms, to such an extent that we no longer have the surpluses. When that happens, we shall indeed be on the way to something like a sensible policy.

Mr. Marten

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the cost of disposal of the surpluses, most of which are unnecessary, is now £2,425 million a year? How much longer can respectable politicians, and indeed respectable farmers, go on tolerating that?

Mr. Silkin

I agree with the hon. Gentleman. That is a point that I have made many times. Whatever farmers may think or may have said in the past, I do not think that it is in their interests. Nor do they get the benefit of those storage costs. The benefit often goes to the middle man and the trader, or is simply used as a means of dumping products in competition, for example, with New Zealand or Australia.

Mr. Arthur Lewis

Has my right hon. Friend had any advice, help, suggestions, hints or ideas from the Opposition about what they would do or how they would help? It might be helpful to get some liaison here, if they have any suggestions.

Mr. Silkin

I have had some advice and hints from the Opposition. Indeed, the right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Peyton) and the hon. Member for Westmorland (Mr. Jopling) told me—I must get this absolutely accurate because I had my knuckles rapped the last time I said it—that they were prepared to advocate the parity of the green currencies over the next two or three years—a parity which, for Europe as a whole, would mean an increase in food prices of about 10 per cent.

Mr. Peyton

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that one of the more deplorable consequences of his Government's policy will be the increasing difficulty which attaches to the parity which we hoped could have been achieved within two or three years? The subsequent decline in the strength of the pound and the lack of any confidence abroad in this Government's rigid policies have made that much more difficult.

Mr. Silkin

I do not know what difficulty the right hon. Gentleman is talking about. We are talking at the moment about the hints and advice that he has given me. I have never heard him retract that advice. If he wants to retract it now, I shall he delighted to hear him say so.

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