HL Deb 10 March 1988 vol 494 cc800-2

3.15 p.m.

Lord Ardwick asked Her Majesty's Government:

What arrangements they have made for the full distribution to the most needy people of the £10 million worth of butter and beef made available for 1988 by the European Commission.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Baroness Trumpington)

My Lords, the Government announced on 12th January a decision to make butter and beef available under the scheme in response to applications from charitable or non-profit-making organisations meeting appropriate conditions. The deadline for receipt of applications was 29th February and the Government are now examining those. The list of designated organisations will be announced as soon as possible.

Lord Ardwick

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for that Answer, which is more gratifying than I had expected when I put down the Question. Nevertheless, it is still extremely vague. Have the Government succeeded in overcoming the doubts and winning the confidence of the great voluntary organisations such as the Salvation Army which had a very unfortunate experience last time? Will the Government attempt to get a decent allocation next year which they will be able to distribute fairly and widely?

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, about 170 applications have been received from a wide range of organisations. As I said, those are being examined. That shows that organisations must be anxious to take part in the scheme. The scheme is permanent. However, the initial arrangements relate to 1988–89. As regards the amount of money available, about £70 million has been made available for the scheme for the EC as a whole. The Commission has indicated that our share is £10 million. The scheme is essentially limited. However, we shall be making full use of the money available in 1988–89 to benefit the most needy in the United Kingdom. I cannot say what the sum will be for 1989–90. That is not in the hands of the Government.

Lord Jay

My Lords, would it not be even more desirable if the huge food stocks could be made available to the ordinary public in the EC at the price at which the Commission is now selling them to the Soviet Union?

Baroness Trumpington

No, my Lords.

Lord Boston of Faversham

My Lords, is the Minister able to say what proportion of applications have been received so far from the London area? Do the Government have in mind any particular proportion of the £10 million to be allocated to that area? If so, what is that proportion likely to be?

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, an announcement of organisations designated is to be made as soon as possible. In advance of that, I should prefer not to give details concening individual organisations. I have a list of local authorities which have applied. If the noble Lord asks, I shall give him a copy of that list and I shall place a copy in the Library.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords, will my noble friend indicate the reason for the answer which she gave to the question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Jay?

Lord Graham of Edmonton

She does not have one!

Baroness Trumpington

Don't you believe it, my Lords! We continue to believe that disadvantaged people should receive support in money rather than in kind. However, this scheme only provides for the distribution of free food and not money. We have decided that there is a case for taking advantage of the scheme in the limited way proposed in the interests of the most needy in the United Kingdom. The same would apply across the board, I imagine.

Lord Sainsbury

My Lords, does the Minister agree that there is a need for guidance to be given to the various charity organisations or local authorities on how they should distribute the surplus food fairly and sensibly?

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, those organisations receiving food from intervention stores will have to conform to certain rules, including checking that the food reaches only eligible recipients. There will be no obligation on distributing organisations to provide food to all recipients or to cover all parts of the country.

Lord Kennet

My Lords, will the noble Baroness state why she thinks it desirable for the general public in the Soviet Union to be able to buy Community butter at a lower price than the general public in the Community?

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, I think that that goes a little wide of the Question.

Lord Gallacher

My Lords, so far as Britain is concerned, will the noble Baroness allow that her Ministry's press release announcing the 1988 scheme was distinctly chilly as to the principle of distributing food to the needy in the Community? In fact it made a specific reference to not believing that it was an acceptable way of dealing with surpluses. Will she not agree that the failure of the Community to devise an acceptable method of dealing with these flagrant structural surpluses does very little good to the image of the Community in particular? Will she not also agree that the Council of Agricultural Ministers appears to be shirking its responsibility for the surpluses which it has created?

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, this Government continue to regard the distribution of free food as not the best way to dispose of surpluses. However, since the scheme is available we are prepared to see it used by appropriate organisations in the United Kingdom if they wish to do so.

Baroness Faithfull

My Lords, will my noble friend the Minister indicate what financial help is given to the charitable organisations which are invited to distribute the food?

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, the costs of charitable organisations are to be reimbursed by Community funds up to a level of about 1 per cent. of the value of the product distributed. Charges on recipients therefore would only normally be required if administrative costs exceed that figure. Transport costs will also be reimbursed from Community funds.

Lord Peston

My Lords, does the Minister agree that surely the best way of disposing of the surpluses is to dispose of the idiotic common agricultural policy?

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, I have said that this scheme is a permanent one. One would hope that the amount in intervention would go down year after year and, with the set aside, stabiliser and other EC policies, that in future the stocks of intervention goods will not arise.

The Earl of Onslow

My Lords, is it not the case that my noble friend and her colleagues on the Front Benches are taking account of agricultural surpluses and trying to do something about it in the European Community against very considerable odds? Is it not also the case that it is not only a European Community problem, but an American problem, a Japanese problem, and an Australian problem, that this scheme is just a small panacea and that at least my noble friends are trying to do something about the surplus?

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, I am most grateful for my noble friend's remarks.