HC Deb 29 November 1990 vol 181 cc1008-9
10. Mr. Allen

To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will list the progress made by his Department in securing a reduction of the European Commission budget spent on agricultural subsidies since 1979; and if he will outline any current proposals which the Government have for further reductions.

Mr. Gummer

We have had a sustained and progressive reduction in the real level of agricultural support prices since 1984 and we are committed to achieving a sustained reduction in the level of support in the current GATT negotiations.

Mr. Allen

I do not blame the Minister personally, as he has not been in the job very long, but the Government have had 11 years in which to reduce the level of subsidy, and it still costs the average family about £15 a week throughout the year to sustain high food prices. Now that we have a Prime Minister—

Mr. Speaker

Order. What is the hon. Gentleman's question?

Mr. Allen

We now have a Prime Minister who may be less supportive of the United States, but will he continue to guarantee that the position of the United States in seeking freer trade in agricultural products will be sustained by him and by the Government?

Mr. Gummer

The hon. Gentleman's figures are utterly wrong; they simply do not stand up. If there were no subsidies, world food prices would rise considerably and the consumer would have to pay more. The £15 figure that he cited has no basis in any sensible fact. I note that he supports United States farmers against United Kingdom farmers. I hope that his hon. Friends will realise that he would like to reduce farm incomes even further and I hope that farmers in constituencies round his will know exactly how to vote when the time comes.

Mr. Riddick

Does my right hon. Friend agree that, despite the so-called renegotiation under the previous Labour Government, the common agricultural policy was totally out of control when the Conservative party came into government back in 1979? Does he agree that only the resolve and determination of this Government and of my right hon. Friend the former Prime Minister brought some sense into the bloated budget?

Mr. Gummer

The lovely countryside of Nottinghamshire would be destroyed if the policies supported by the hon. Member for Nottingham, North (Mr. Allen) were adopted.

Dr. David Clark

Will the Minister confirm that spending on agricultural surpluses has got out of hand? Will he confirm that there has been a 68-fold increase of skimmed milk powder, a fourfold increase of beef and a doubling of the amount of butter in intervention? Will he further confirm that he will have to spend an extra £1 billion in the next few years to support that? When will the Minister go to Brussels and start fighting for the British consumer?

Mr. Gummer

The hon. Gentleman betrays his lack of knowledge both of the common agricultural policy and of the negotiations that are taking place. This Government have fought more effectively than any previous Government for the British consumer and the British farmer and this Minister will continue to do that in the GATT round. It would help considerably if the Opposition would stop slagging off Britain and start supporting its farmers.

Mr. Gill

Does my right hon. Friend agree that, whatever form agricultural subsidies or support for the countryside may take in the future, it is vital that the regime should be universal in the Community so that we may have an open and fair market?

Mr. Gummer

My hon. Friend is perfectly right. The Government are fighting for fairness among the countries of the European Community and between the Community and the other countries of the world. That is why I wish that the Opposition would stop promoting American interests and start supporting European interests.

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