HC Deb 15 February 1978 vol 944 cc256-7W
Mr. Robinson

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what was the outcome of the Council of Ministers (Agriculture) meeting in Brussels on 13th and 14th February.

Mr. John Silkin

I represented the United Kingdom at this meeting. The Council held a preliminary debate on a package of measures to deal with the problems of agriculture in the Mediterranean region of the Community. I made it clear that I would support cost-effective proposals but was opposed to measures which would create structural surpluses, place unjustified burdens on consumers or damage trade relations with third countries.

The Council resumed discussion on the Commission's proposals on 1978–79 farm prices dealing this time with products not discussed at its meeting in January. The most important of these was pigmeat: I made it clear that I could not accept the suggested 3 per cent. increase, which would have the effect of increasing pigmeat MCAs, unless the method of calculating these MCAs was reformed.

The Commission presented its report on the effects of the green currency system, for which I have been pressing since last autumn. I challenged the report's conclusions, which are not supported by the facts, and expressed disappointment at its inadequate consideration of the problem of pigmeat MCAs.

The Council resumed its discussion on the Commission's proposal for phasing out MCAs. My position remains that phasing out can be considered only if agreement can be reached on the use of a more representative unit of account and on an economically justifiable common price level. I pointed out that the Italian, United Kingdom and French institutional prices are now broadly at the same level. A system which sought to harmonise prices at this level would be worthy of consideration. The Commission's proposals for raising these prices to the level of the so-called common prices, which are in fact applied only in Denmark, are not.

The Council considered the provisions for new potatoes to be contained in the forthcoming common regime for potatoes and the mandate for negotiations with Cyprus on imports into the Community of Cyprus new potatoes. Unfortunately, little progress was made on either issue.