HC Deb 16 March 1978 vol 946 cc626-7
14. Mr. Bulmer

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food when he will next attend a meeting of the Agriculture Economic Development Council.

Mr. John Silkin

My Department is regularly represented by officials at meetings of the Economic Development Committee for Agriculture. I attend the National Economic Development Council when necessary.

Mr. Bulmer

Does the Minister accept that the biggest obstacle to farming confidence in the short term is the green pound differential and in the longterm capital taxation? When he does attend a meeting of the agriculture committee will he explain why his Government appear to regard cheap food as a right and cheap anything else as a threat? Will he also explain how the proposed wealth tax will help British agriculture?

Mr. Silkin

I hope that in the next two years, or whenever it is, that will appear in the election manifesto of the hon. Member for Kidderminster. The hon. Member is out of date. The House asked the Government to devalue the green pound by 7½ per cent. some weeks ago. To try to make a parity between the green pound and the actual pound—which is something that the hon. Member would like to do over two or three years—would be to add about 6½ per cent. to the cost of food here.

I throw back a question to the hon. Member to ponder on at leisure. How much food does he think the British farmer would be able to produce if the British consumer was not able to afford it?

Mr. Ioan Evans

Can my right hon. Friend make an assessment with the Committee on how the common agriculture policy has had an effect on prices in this country? Will he discuss with EEC Ministers the effect on our dairy industry if we had to adopt the Continental style of milk distribution?

Mr. Silkin

Those concerned are well aware—we have stated it often enough—that the real problem is high prices. These are totally linked to the unacceptable structural surpluses, particularly in the dairy industry. It might be nice to have 400,000 tons of butter in store, but peope would prefer to have it on their bread.