HC Deb 22 January 1981 vol 997 cc414-5
9. Mr. Bowen Wells

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he is satisfied with the workings of the intervention system for cereals in the European Economic Community.

Mr. Buchanan-Smith

Intervention has played an important part in supporting returns to United Kingdom producers since the record harvest last year. We shall take full account of recent experience in this country and the rest of the Community when arrangements for 1981–82 come under discussion in the forthcoming common agricultural policy price review.

Mr. Wells

While thanking my hon. Friend for that reply, will he say more about the disposal of surplus cereal and whether consideration has been given to disposing of surplus cereal in a manner that would benefit starving Third world countries, or, indeed, our own old-age pensioners and some of our unemployed?

Mr. Buchanan-Smith

The United Kingdom and the Community as a whole contribute to the food aid programme. Part of the surplus of cereals is used for that purpose. Our main surpluses in the United Kingdom are coarse grain and feed grain that are not necessarily appropriate for that purpose. I assure my hon. Friend that, through the food aid programme, we make sure that surpluses are used in a sensible and proper manner.

Mr. Jay

Is it true that over 600,000 tonnes of grain are now held in stock by the United Kingdom intervention board?

Mr. Buchanan-Smith

At the current moment, about 617,000 tonnes, to be precise, are held. I would say to the right hon. Gentleman, who always loves to exaggerate these matters, that the figure represents 3½ per cent. of the total United Kingdom harvest. In simple terms of prudence in storing against a rainy day, I believe that it is a wholly sensible precaution.

Mr. Geraint Howells

If the common agricultural policy is to be reformed within the next two or three years, should not the top priority be to get rid of the intervention system now operating in Europe?

Mr. Buchanan-Smith

No. I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman. If we are to operate a sensible system which can ensure security of supplies to the consumer not only in the United Kingdom but throughout the rest of Europe for certain commodities, particularly those which can be stored, such as cereals, it may be appropriate to have an intervention system such as this, where a commodity can be stored from a period of plenty over to a period of scarcity. That makes sense. We should not be dogmatic in saying that one system of support or another is necessarily the best. We need to look at the system of support in relation to how appropriate it is to the commodity.

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