HC Deb 05 November 1992 vol 213 cc400-1
5. Mr. Cryer

To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will make a statement on the distribution of EC surplus foods to pensioners; and what assessment he has made of whether sufficient quantities have been allocated to each outlet.

The Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. David Curry)

Butter and beef worth about £17.9 million will be distributed by designated organisations to eligible people in the United Kingdom during 1992–93. Pensioners who fall into the eligible groups will qualify for the food.

Mr. Cryer

Does the Minister agree that that amount is only a small part of the £2.5 billion per year that we contribute to the Common Market? That butter and beef is paid for by taxpayers. The arbitrary halving of allocated amounts to the various outlets because of the doubling of the number has therefore caused great concern to the voluntary organisations which, with good heart and good will, undertake distribution to pensioners and other poor people. In future, will the Minister seek to obtain more supplies for each outlet, such as Dovesdale working men's club in my constituency? Will he ensure that poor people receive a proper amount, and will he take into account the views of the voluntary organisations carrying out the distribution rather than impose arbitrary limits? Or does he not care about either category?

Mr. Curry

The hon. Gentleman cannot have it both ways. Either we give greater quantities to fewer organisations or we try to make sure that there is fair distribution across the country so that those who qualify manage to receive some of the product. It is a fixed budget, there are fixed amounts, and the pressure upon me has been to designate many organisations in order to ensure as fair a distribution as possible. I have done that, and I think that it is the right course.

Mr. Hawkins

My hon. and right hon. Friends will be aware that my constituency has the highest proportion of pensioners of any constituency. They will also be aware that in recent years the distribution of that food has been of considerable benefit to those pensioners. Is there any opportunity for further distributions of surplus food? Is there a chance that the surplus mushrooms that have been grown in the Republic of Ireland will be distributed to pensioners there, rather than involve the payment of unfair subsidies which are damaging one of my most important employers, the biggest mushroom farm in the north of England?

Mr. Curry

I congratulate my hon. Friend on his dexterity in making that question comply with the rules. We shall review the scheme to see whether it is reaching the right people and in the right quantities and products. One of the matters that I shall look at is whether we should look to a scheme that is tilted more towards beef than butter because there are fewer surpluses of butter and as we all know, there is a horrendous surplus of beef. We shall see to what extent we can correspond to the economic conditions and, above all, make sure that it is fair to those who receive it.

Mr. Ron Davies

May I press the Minister on the question by my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer)? It is outrageous that hundreds of thousands of tonnes of good quality food are consigned to surplus stores while millions of people—pensioners and others on income support—are unable to afford those products on the open market. Does the Minister acknowledge that many people in the voluntary sector would willingly give their time to distribute the food but cannot afford the petrol? Does the Minister understand that if he made small sums available to the voluntary sector a decent system could be introduced to ensure that people who are willing to give their services free could get the free food to the people who need it?

Mr. Curry

I readily pay tribute to those in the voluntary sector who organise the distribution of the food. It is by far the best system of distribution—much better than an attempt to distribute the food via supermarkets or other retail outlets.

The quantities are limited, however. If we are trying to get rid of surpluses and control production, this is one of the least efficient ways of doing so. While the food is there, I am determined that people in the United Kingdom should have their fair share; but I should much rather look to an on-going reform of the Community that ensures that we do not generate the problem in the first place.