HC Deb 16 April 1981 vol 3 cc425-6
26. Sir Anthony Meyer

asked the Secretary of State for Employment what are the prices in Switzerland, Norway, Austria, Sweden and Finland of (a) a pound of butter, (b) a kilo of sugar and (c) a pound of steak; and how these prices compare with those in the United Kingdom.

The Under-Secretary of State for Employment (Mr. Peter Morrison)

I shall be writing to my hon. Friend with the exact statistics that he requires. The latest available information, based on a survey carried out in October 1979, demonstrates that butter was cheaper in the United Kingdom than in all the other countries inquired about, except Norway. Sugar was as cheap, or cheaper, in the United Kingdom than in any of the other countries, and beef was cheaper than in all the other countries, with the exception of Finland.

Sir Anthony Meyer

It is manifestly preposterous that this question, which was addressed to the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, has been transferred to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment. The question deals with food prices and relates to the CAP. Merely because it affects the retail price index it has been transferred to the Department of Employment. I sympathise with my hon. Friend for having to deal with my supplementary question, but——

Mr. Speaker

Order. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will get around to asking his supplementary question.

Sir Anthony Meyer

It would appear that my hon. Friend has been abandoned by his Front Bench colleagues. Does not this question demonstrate the absurdity of the contention that the British consumer would be better off if we were outside the EEC, because European countries outside the EEC appear to be paying higher food prices than we are?

Mr. Morrison

I am grateful for the sympathy shown to me by my hon. Friend, but my Department keeps the statistics. The figures appear to bear out what he has said in his supplementary question.

Mr. Austin Mitchell

As food is generally available more cheaply outside than inside the Common Market, will the Minister tell us at what prices mutton, cheese, and butter, which are available from New Zealand, have to be sold on world markets in competition with dumped products from the Common Market? How much levy is paid on that produce when it comes into this country in order to increase the price to the British consumer?

Mr. Morrison

The original question referred not to New Zealand, but to Switzerland, Norway, Austria, Sweden, Finland and, of course, the United Kingdom. The hon. Gentleman referred to butter. In October 1979 butter cost 72p a pound in the United Kingdom, compared with £1.81 a pound in Switzerland. That seems a significant difference in favour of the United Kingdom.

Mr. Colin Shepherd

When my hon. Friend writes to my hon. Friend the Member for Flint, West (Sir A. Meyer), will he put the answer in terms of the minutes worked by a married man, on national average wages, 'with two children under 11 years of age, so that proper comparisons can be made?

Mr. Morrison

My hon. Friend has bowled a rather fast ball. I shall not be able to acceed to his request because I do not think that we shall have the statistics available.

Mr. Jay

In view of the thirst for knowledge on these matters by the hon. Member for Flint, West (Sir A. Meyer), will the Minister tell us the prices of these commodities in Australia and the United States as well as in New Zealand?

Mr. Morrison

If the right hon. Gentleman will table a question, I am sure that I shall be able to help him.

Mr. Jessel

Is not the average standard of living in Switzerland, Norway, Austria, Sweden and Finland significantly higher than that not merely in the United Kingdom but in the European Community as a whole?

Mr. Morrison

That is a matter of opinion, which my hon. Friend obviously has. I should not like to comment upon it.

Mr. Spearing

Will the Minister confirm that the current levy, even at a specially reduced rate for New Zealand butter, is about 30p a pound and for other countries about 50p a pound?

Mr. Morrison

That is a matter for my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food.

Mr. Cryer

Will the Minister confirm, first, that some non-EEC countries have cheaper commodities—indeed, he mentioned one in his answers—secondly, that wage rates in the other EEC countries listed in the question are much higher than in this country and, thirdly, that cheaper food supplies would be available to this country if we were not in the EEC?

Mr. Morrison

I confirm that in October 1979 a pound of sirloin in Finland cost £1.88 compared with £2.07 in the United Kingdom. On the other hand, it cost £3.20 in Norway. It will vary from country to country.

Mr. Mason

We recognise that the Common Market has a bad image, but the Minister does not seem to have improved it, or his own, today.

Mr. Morrison

That is a matter of opinion. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman believes, as many of his hon. Friends believe, that we should remain in the Common Market.

Mr. Speaker

We shall have time to consider that remark. The House will be suspended until 10.15 when we shall take Prime Minister's questions.

10.3 am

Sitting suspended.

10.15 am

On resuming—