HL Deb 14 December 1987 vol 491 cc435-6

2.49 p.m.

Lord Bruce of Donington

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government, if they were empowered to dispose of all EC agricultural surpluses currently held in storage or elsewhere within the United Kingdom, what would be,

  1. (a) The estimated total cost to be borne by the United Kingdom;
  2. (b) the estimated cost per annum over the period required for disposal;
  3. (c) the vote number under which parliamentary sanction would be sought.

Lord Hesketh

My Lords, if all the intervention stocks held in the United Kingdom were sold at current world market prices, the loss on sale would be approximately £690 million. if disposal were spread over a period the actual cost would depend on movements in world prices, which cannot be forecast.

Losses on sale are normally borne by the Community. If member states bore the disposal costs of stocks held in their territories the effect on the United Kingdom would be much less than £690 million because we would not be contributing to disposal of stocks elsewhere. In fact, the present distribution of stocks is such that the effect on the United Kingdom would be broadly neutral.

The vote number under which parliamentary sanction would be sought would be a matter for decision at the time.

Lord Bruce of Donington

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for his reply, but may I ask him to differentiate between the £600 million that he mentioned earlier in his reply and his statement at the end that the result might be broadly neutral? Either the United Kingdom will suffer a loss, and therefore the taxpayer will suffer a loss, if the Prime Minister's proposal to the Community is agreed to or it will not. Will he make the situation clear?

On the assumption that the noble Lord is correct in saying that the loss to the United Kingdom taxpayer was £600 million, will he notify his right honourable friend the Prime Minister that her generosity in this respect contrasts very directly with her entirely different attitude towards the National Health Service, towards which she has expressed her detestation?

Lord Hesketh

My Lords, although the noble Lord feels that there is a difference, in fact there is a straightforward explanation. The stocks held in the United Kingdom and our contribution to a Community settlement balance if you work it out. It appears slightly illogical, I would be the first to agree with him, but if you think of what is held in the United Kingdom and set that against what our contribution would be if we contributed to a Community-wide disposal, it results in technical fact in a broadly neutral result.

Lord Bruce of Donington

My Lords, so the noble Lord may be fortified in that regard by EC opinion that his right honourable friend has in fact been offering the Community nothing.

Lord Hesketh

My Lords, I am sure that that is not true.

Lord Peyton of Yeovil

My Lords, will my noble friend bear in mind that he has a great deal of sympathy when he is called upon to answer long, hypothetical questions of this kind, particularly when the supplementaries are salted by the noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Donington, with his dislike of the Prime Minister which I am sure she would not bother to reciprocate?

Lord Hesketh

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for his remarks.

Lord Molloy

My Lords, does the noble Lord agree that ordinary people find it rather confusing that these massive stores have been built up in this country and on the Continent in commodities which are getting dearer and dearer in price? Is it not about time that we looked at the agricultural policy and tried to introduce some sanity into it instead of continuing to pay through the nose as we have been for the last 10 years?

Lord Hesketh

My Lords, one thing I can assure the noble Lord of is that, quite contrary to being dearer and dearer in price, the commodities are going down and down in price.

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