HC Deb 16 April 1981 vol 3 cc417-8
1. Mr. Thomas Cox

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will list the present food stocks held by the European Economic Community.

The Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. Peter Walker)

The number of days' supply of public intervention stocks in the European Community at recent dates were approximately 15½ days of beef and veal, 11 days of butter, 25 days of skimmed milk powder, 24 days of cereals, 51 days of olive oil and eight days of oilseed rape.

Mr. Cox

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for that reply, but is he aware that nothing angers the British taxpayer more than the continuing stupidity of the food surpluses in the EEC? When will we rid ourselves of that stupidity and stop selling them, as we often do, at giveaway prices? Why cannot those surpluses be made available to the elderly within the EEC or to the starving millions of the world? That would receive far more support than the present stupidity.

Mr. Walker

The Community is developing an increasing food aid programme for third countries and more recently especially for Poland. That has been of considerable importance. As for helping consumers, the United Kingdom enjoys a unique consumer subsidy in the major areas of surplus, namely, butter and dairy products.

Sir Anthony Meyer

Is it not time to put an end to the con trick about the common agricultural policy being such a disaster? Is it not clear that, with all its imperfections, the policy has ensured for the people of Western Europe a steady supply of food and a reasonable standard of living for farmers at less cost than that paid by the United States or Japan for the maintenance of their agriculture?

Mr. Walker

My hon. Fried is correct in saying that the CAP has secured for Europe a security of food supplies and a degree of economic stability of considerable importance, but the Government consider that there are areas of surplus and potential danger that still need to be tackled. Certainly there is only one thing worse than a surplus, and that is a shortage.

Mr. Spearing

Does the Minister agree that the best way to measure a surplus is to consider the amount exported with Export refunds? Can he confirm that there are between 10 million and 15 million tonnes of cereals to be exported from the EEC this year and that there is a risk that some farmers producing food at cost will be put out of business?

Mr. Walker

I cannot give the figures. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will table a specific question about cereals. Certainly when measuring a surplus one has to look also at what is exported with export refunds