HC Deb 12 July 1979 vol 970 cc641-3
6. Mr. Jim Marshall

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will estimate the increases in EEC structural surpluses, product by product, as a result of the recent decision on common agricultural prices.

The Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. Alick Buchanan-Smith)

The average increase in agricultural prices is far below the general level of cost increases, and should not add to EEC surpluses.

Mr. Marshall

Is the Minister aware that that was a very evasive reply and perhaps indicates that he and his right hon. Friend are not yet fully aware of the effect that the latest price increases will have on structural surpluses? Does the Minister accept that if he and his colleagues mean what they say about a radical restructuring of the CAP, a price freeze later this year, and certainly next year, should be the first step in that direction?

Mr. Buchanan-Smith

The hon. Gentleman has forgotten that there was a price freeze on the commodity that is most in surplus. The overall price increase of 1.2 per cent. is far below any increase under the previous Government. In that respect we have demonstrated that we are prepared to tackle the problem at the root for the first time.

Mr. Peter Mills

Will my hon. Friend bear in mind that surpluses can be misleading, and will he explain to Labour Members that they need to be looked at in terms of weeks' supply? Will my hon. Friend bear in mind that beef production is down and there could be a shortage? Will he continue to protect the consumer by encouraging home production?

Mr. Buchanan-Smith

I endorse what my hon. Friend has said. If we take the example of cereals, the surplus over recent years has varied from as much as seven weeks' supply to as little as one week's supply. If stocks fall below one week's supply there is great danger that the consumer will suffer, through high prices.

Mr. Buchan

Will the Minister tell us the size of the beet sugar mountain, and will he make sure that that mountain will not be used to imperil the future of cane sugar imports to this country and our cane refineries?

Mr. Buchanan-Smith

One of the problems with beet sugar is that decisions on this year's prices were not taken until the crop was in the ground. We should like to have seen action on quotas, and we intend to follow that through, as we have said publicly, in the autumn. I am aware of the hon. Gentleman's interest in cane sugar and he knows that, under the agreement, we are continuing imports from ACP countries.

Mr. Crowther

Is the Minister aware that there appears to be a difference of opinion between the view expressed by his right hon. Friend that the new deal on farm prices, whatever it may do to surpluses, will at least reduce the British contribution to the EEC budget and the view of others, including, I understand, the Commission, that it will increase our contribution? If his right hon. Friend is so certain that he is right, will the Minister ask him to undertake to resign if he turns out to be wrong?

Mr. Buchanan-Smith

I can say categorically that the price package that we achieved will reduce the net contribution of the United Kingdom by about £30 million. I know that that may be unpalatable to the hon. Gentleman, but facts are unapalatable sometimes.