HC Deb 11 March 1987 vol 112 cc286-7
9. Mr. Home Robertson

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland what estimate he has of the costs incurred by voluntary organisations in Scotland on the administration, distribution and handling of free food for the needy from European Economic Community intervention stocks.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. John MacKay)

Costs incurred for the delivery of foodstuffs to the charities' distribution points are, within limits reimbursable. I have no estimate of the other costs incurred by the voluntary organisations.

Mr. Home Robertson

Is the Minister aware that we welcome the admission by the Government that there are a lot of needy people in Scotland? We also welcome the principle of distributing the surplus food. Obviously we are all grateful to the voluntary organisations for the splendid job that they have done. However, will he accept that there have been significant problems in the distribution? In view of the substantial cost and the workload involved in the exercise for voluntary organisations in Scotland, will he make contingency plans for public agencies to fund and co-ordinate any future distribution?

Mr. MacKay

Perhaps I may first join the hon. Member in congratulating and thanking the voluntary bodies which have done such a splendid job in distributing the food. I have to remind him that it was a decision of the Commission that the best, quickest and most effective way of distributing the food would be through voluntary bodies and that FEOGA, for example, will reimburse the charities at a rate of £159 per tonne for the repacking into small packs and the transport of butter. There will also be reimbursement for the transport of boneless beef. The charities knew when they took over the job that they would be involved in costs. I believe that they have seen it as a worthwhile job and I do not think they will complain too much about the success of the venture.

Mr. McQuarrie

I am sure my hon. Friend will accept that the voluntary organisations, while they undertook willingly to carry out the work, have not got a bottomless purse. Will he try to ensure that the costs are reimbursed to the Salvation Army, Age Concern and similar organisations, because they do not have funds other than the voluntary contributions of many people? FEOGA and the Commission have plenty of money to reimburse these organisations.

Mr. MacKay

I repeat the point that I made in response to the hon. Member for East Lothian (Mr. Home Robertson) that there will be reimbursement for the cost of distribution to the main distribution points. That is probably the major part of the cost. The Commission has made it clear that the limited costs thereafter will have to fall on the charities themselves. As my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food said in the House the other day, we will be prepared to talk to any charities that have trouble.

Mr. Ron Brown

The Government believe in market forces. If we believe the various statements by individuals who allege that the EEC is wonderful, surely these foodstuffs should be made available in village shops. It is a question of cost. Surely prices should come down. Would it not be better if we withdrew completely from the EEC?

Mr. MacKay

I am not sure whether I have fully understood the hon. Member's question. The Government have long argued for a reduction in support prices under the common agricultural policy, but other member states have not been prepared to agree. Even if we got that, the elasticity of demand for foodstuffs in the European Community would still mean that we had a major surplus problem.

Mr. Bruce

Will not the Minister acknowledge that the problem is not simply one of cost but of physical human resources and that in many areas distribution has been patchy or non-existent because the charities did not have people on the ground? Will he recognise that in future it would be better if such distribution was co-ordinated by local authorities? Further, what will he do for those areas that missed out altogether, and for those individuals who were denied participation?

Mr. MacKay

I am sorry to hear that the hon. Member representing the Liberal party has so little confidence in the voluntary organisations. While I accept that distribution started off rather patchily my information is that it is now in full swing and that many people are giving a lot of time to getting the butter and so on to elderly people. I am sorry to see the hon. Member dissenting because in his constituency, as in others, many volunteers in, for example, the WRVS are doing an excellent job. I am prepared to pay tribute to them, if he is not.