HC Deb 24 January 1991 vol 184 cc445-7
8. Mr. Tony Banks

To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what is the current level of foodstuffs held in European Economic Community intervention stores in the United Kingdom.

Mr. Curry

A table showing intervention stocks held in the EC and in the United Kingdom is deposited monthly in the House of Commons Library. The latest figures were tabled on 15 January.

Mr. Banks

I thank the Minister for that fulsome reply. He knows that those intervention dumps of foodstuffs are now at a higher level. That is indeed very regrettable. Do the Government accept that the CAP is an absurdity which is ruining the European ideal? Is not it obscene that at a time when millions of people in Africa are suffering starvation they and we see large quantities of food that cannot be sold on the European market being stuffed into ever-increasing intervention stores?

Mr. Curry

I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on seeking so quickly to forge a new career in agriculture politics. I am sure that his Front Bench will welcome his conversion as much as I do. The most important point that he made concerned the effect on the third world. European surpluses are not an answer to the third world's problem. That is why a successful outcome to the GATT talks is of particular importance to the third world. With improved access to their products, the people there could earn their own livelihood. It is a very firm part of the Government's policy, first, that the GATT talks should succeed and, secondly, that some of the causes of these surpluses should be removed by bringing production under control and getting it closer to the marketplace. That has been and will remain our policy.

Mr. Charles Wardle

Is it appropriate to consider the level of intervention stocks in the context of EC proposals for agricultural reform? Do not those reform proposals discriminate against all but the very smallest European farms and appear to lack economic rationale?

Mr. Curry

There are four fundamental objections to the proposals that have been made. The first is that, quite simply, they are anti-economic. Any system that is designed to take an economic unit that can compete in the market place and render it incapable of competition must make nonsense economically. Secondly, of course, they are massively discriminatory against the United Kingdom and that is something we shall not tolerate. Thirdly, they cost a great deal. Fourthly, they are wide open to fraud. For those reasons the United Kingdom Government will be obliged to oppose the proposals. We have a much better scheme for reforming the CAP. What we want is to get genuinely into the marketplace and make sure that we create units that can survive in more market-oriented conditions.

Mr. David Clark

Will the Minister be a little less coy in future when answering questions such as this? Will he confirm that there are 700,000 tonnes of beef, 260,000 tonnes of butter and 335,000 tonnes of skimmed milk in intervention stores? Will he further confirm that the CAP budget is likely to be increased by 25 per cent. in the next two years and that, as he told the Oxford farming conference, unless we take action quickly the CAP will be out of control?

Mr. Curry

If the hon. Gentleman wants recital of stock levels, I am perfectly willing to give one, but it would take at least 20 minutes. Yes, as I said at the Oxford conference, the CAP is in serious difficulty because, irrespective of the GATT negotiations, there is a major budgetary problem. Many circumstances have contributed to that. There has been the BSE crisis, during which the Opposition did not go out of their way to help us to reassure the public that the measures that we took were adequate—indeed, quite the opposite. Problems have also been caused by the Gulf crisis, the impoverishment of eastern Europe, the drought, German unification, increased imports and changing consumption patterns. On top of that, we have declining consumption and increasing output. They are structural problems which cannot be avoided. Yes, we are back in a serious situation, we will have to tackle it, and it would have to be tackled whether or not GATT existed.

Mr. Bellingham

What percentage of United Kingdom taxpayers' support for agriculture is getting through to the British farmer and thence to the rural economy rather than being eaten up in the corruption and bureaucracy of the CAP?

Mr. Curry

Most Community support goes towards market regimes, which means that it does not go directly to the farmer's pocket. For example, the substantial amount of money that we put into supporting beef last year has not appeared in the form of a cheque to the farmer. But that support is essential to prevent an immense drain on the taxpayer and major problems for farmers. One reason why the new proposals in Brussels are unacceptable to us is that opportunities for fraud are almost inherent in them. We have always fought that and we shall continue to do so.