HL Deb 28 March 1990 vol 517 cc867-9

2.43 p.m.

Baroness Strange asked Her Majesty's Government:

What is the trend in the level of agricultural intervention stocks in the European Community.

The Earl of Strathmore and Kinghorne

My Lords, European Community intervention stocks have fallen considerably in recent years and are now a fraction of what they were at their peak. For example, cereals stocks have fallen by over 50 per cent., beef stocks by over 80 per cent., and butter and skimmed milk stocks by over 90 per cent. The Community has taken a number of measures to make sure that stocks do not build up again to previous levels.

Baroness Strange

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that remarkable and encouraging Answer. Does he agree that it demonstrates not only the Government's success in reforming the EC agricultural policy but also their ability to remove mountains?

The Earl of Strathmore and Kinghorne

My Lords, I agree with my noble friend. For many years the United Kingdom has been at the forefront of those arguing for action to tackle the expense and wastage of the CAP. I am glad to be able to say that considerable progress has been made, particularly through the package of measures agreed at the February 1988 European Council. Not only have surplus stocks fallen drastically but expenditure is under much tighter control and well within the agreed budgetary ceiling. We are creating a more rational and sustainable CAP to the benefit of UK consumers and producers alike.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon

My Lords, despite all that the Minister has said, is it not a fact that the CAP is costing every family of four in this country an extra £18 per week? Would it not be better if agricultural policy were repatriated to this country and other countries in the EC so that we can import goods at world prices? Does the Minister agree that such action would help his right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer in his fight against inflation and perhaps get rid of the ridiculous talk about joining the ERM?

The Earl of Strathmore and Kinghorne

My Lords, I am not sure of the figure of £18.—

Lord Mason of Barnsley

Neither is anybody else.

The Earl of Strathmore and Kinghorne

My Lords, I can give examples of measures which were taken during the past decade. In 1984 milk quotas were introduced. In December 1986 there was a 9–5 per cent, cut in milk production over two years with reduced access to intervention. There was also a cut of around 13 per cent, in beef buying-in prices. During the 1987 price fixing, adjustments were made to cereals and the oilseeds regime to reduce overall support levels. There were the 1988 and 1989 price fixings, and in January 1989 the availability of intervention in the beef sector was further reduced as part of the regime review.

Lord Gallacher

My Lords, is the Minister aware that we welcome the present stock position, even though it has been reached at a heavy cost to taxpayers in general? Can he say whether physical checks of intervention stocks are now made in Britain on a regular basis, and with what result? Can the Minister also say whether he expects better results on stock-keeping in general following the decision to establish the intervention board as an executive agency?

The Earl of Strathmore and Kinghorne

My Lords, the Government are well aware of the risk of fraud and physical checks are carried out. The Government do everything they can to safeguard public funds. As regards the noble Lord's second point, there have been problems with the IBAP. However, they are now being dealt with and payment delays are being significantly reduced.

Lord Williams of Elvel

My Lords, in the friendliest possible spirit I ask the noble Earl to raise his voice. A number of noble Lords cannot hear him when he is speaking at the Dispatch Box.

The Earl of Strathmore and Kinghorne

My Lords, I apologise to your Lordships, but I am suffering from a cold.

Lord Mottistone

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that in his Answer he did not mention sugar as one of the products about which he was inclined to boast? Is not a review of the sugar regime well overdue? Can my noble friend comment on that?

The Earl of Strathmore and Kinghorne

My Lords, there is still over-production of sugar in the world. However, if my noble friend requires information I shall write to him.

Baroness Elles

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that as members of the Community we have benefited from the CAP and that over the past 10 years the item that has shown the lowest percentage increase on the RPI has been food?

The Earl of Strathmore and Kinghorne

My Lords, I agree with my noble friend.

Lord Walston

My Lords, I congratulate the Commission and the Government on the welcome reduction in stocks. However, looking at the long-term future, with a rising world population and a rising demand because of poor production in Eastern Europe, the Soviet Union and possibly China, is the Minister satisfied that supplies of food for this country during the next 10 years are adequate?

The Earl of Strathmore and Kinghorne

My Lords, yes, I am satisfied that this country's food supplies for the next 10 years are in order. However, with regard to Eastern Europe, food aid is not necessarily the best way of helping developing countries. In some cases we can meet short-term needs but that damages the vital goal of encouraging indigenous agriculture. It is much better to supply know-how, machinery and seeds.

Lord Stanley of Alderley

My Lords, can my noble friend say why intervention prices for British producers for cereals are 20 per cent, lower than those for the French?

The Earl of Strathmore and Kinghorne

My Lords, my noble friend is bringing me into the area of the green pound.