HC Deb 21 October 1982 vol 29 cc495-6
14. Mr. Colvin

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will give the latest figures for stocks of intervention foodstocks in terms of the number of days of consumption.

Mr. Buchanan-Smith

Foodstocks—including animal feeding stuffs—held in intervention in the European Community in terms of days' consumption are:

butter 14½
cereals 28
olive oil 82
skimmed milk powder 140

Mr. Colvin

Does my right hon. Friend agree that these stocks are not excessive in relation to the total consumption of the EEC, and that in this day and age it is better to have a surplus than to have a shortage?

Mr. Buchanan-Smith

I endorse what my hon. Friend has said. When one sees what is happening in other countries, one realises that consumers, in particular, always benefit more from surpluses than shortages.

Mr. Spearing

At the same time, does the Minister agree that a more accurate and objective indication of a surplus would be in respect of the percentage of annual production? In that regard, does the right hon. Gentleman agree that throughout the EEC there is at least a 20 per cent. surplus of dairy products and milk production?

Mr. Buchanan-Smith

We are concerned about continuing surpluses in particular products. As the hon. Gentleman knows, we have taken certain steps in recent price fixings to try to put some restraints on increases in production. I put the question back to the hon. Gentleman: would he rather have 5 million tonnes, as we have in intervention in the Community, in cereals, as against the 50 million tonnes shortage that Soviet Russia is experiencing?

Mr. Teddy Taylor

Does the Minister expect the stocks to increase or to decrease over the next 12 months? As he has firmly rejected the export of surplus butter to Russia, where should the surpluses go?

Mr. Buchanan-Smith

If my hon. Friend understood a little more about agricultural production he would realise that this problem happens all over the world, and the effect on surpluses depends on world trade and prices. There are other factor, which are impossible to predict at this stage.

Mr. Eastham

As the Minister accepts that we have these surpluses of foods, does he think that his Department can prevail on the Department of Education and Science to take advantage of them to help local authorities, which are in the shameful position of having to end school meals?

Mr. Buchanan-Smith

I had hoped that the hon. Gentleman would welcome the fact that this Department has negotiated support for school milk. I am glad to say that many local authorities have taken advantage of that.