HC Deb 01 November 1979 vol 972 cc1432-3
12. Mr. Gwilym Roberts

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what are the latest figures available for the addition to British food prices resulting from membership of the EEC; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Buchanan-Smith

A calculation of this kind involves many assumptions about the agricultural support arrangements which would have applied in the United Kingdom if we were outside the EEC and about the way in which world markets for agricultural produce would have moved. Subject to that qualification I estimate that, as a result of the CAP, retail food prices in 1979 have been some 8 per cent, to 10 per cent. higher than they might otherwise have been.

Mr. Roberts

Does the hon. Gentleman accept that there are enormous assumptions in that calculation and, as every housewife will tell him, the real effect of EEC membership is greater than that? Does he agree that the problem is particularly acute because it is evident that, in spite of the earlier boasts of the Prime Minister, we shall not achieve a substantial reduction to our contribution to the budget at the meeting in Dublin?

Mr. Buchanan-Smith

If the hon. Gentleman does not care to believe my figures he might reflect that a similar figure was calculated by his right hon. Friend the Member for Deptford (Mr. Silkin) when he was in office and by the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan), who was in the Department of Prices and Consumer Protection at that time. I agree that our budget contribution must be put on a more reasonable basis and that is what my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister is negotiating now.

Mr. Dykes

Does my hon. Friend agree that if we had kept the old deficiency payments system which ended in 1972, while allowing for real price increases and inflation since then, the total amount of that sort of support would be about twice our net contribution to the CAP as it now stands?

Mr. Buchanan-Smith

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his remarks, he is absolutely right. Those who criticise the CAP often forget that, under the deficiency payments system, many hundreds of millions of pounds every year were committed by the taxpayer.

Mr. John Home Robertson

Is the Minister aware that one commodity which could be far cheaper as a result of our membership of the Common Market is school milk? Will he explain why so many rural local authorities do not take advantage of the subsidies which are available?

Mr. Buchanan-Smith

The hon. Gentleman has overlooked the fact that a subsidy on milk is paid by the EEC.

Mr. Colin Shepherd

Does my hon. Friend agree that, in view of the increase of more than 100 per cent. in prices during the period of office of the previous Government, our membership of the Community has afforded us good value? Does he agree that the Socialist Government were very expensive for the country?

Mr. Buchanan-Smith

It is significant that in the five years under the previous Government food prices rose by just over 120 per cent. Therefore, the recent 10 per cent. rise must be put into the proper perspective.