asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what further assessment he has made of the prospects for United Kingdom agriculture in an enlarged European Economic Community, following the recent agreement in Brussels on transitional arrangements for United Kingdom adaptation to the common agricultural policy.
The transitional arrangements we have agreed should ensure a smooth and orderly transition to Community price levels and enable our farmers to take full advantage of the opportunities offered by the common agricultural policy.
Has the future of production grants, particularly those for hill farms, yet been cleared up, or is it likely to be cleared up in the next round of negotiations? Is the hon. Gentleman's interpretation of the functions of marketing boards, which will be allowed to continue under the common agricultural policy, the interpretation accepted by the E.E.C. authorities?
The production grant system and its future is still as it was. I have nothing to add to what I have said previously on that subject. Nor do I have anything to add to what my right hon. Friend and I have said about the future of marketing boards.
Is my hon. Friend aware that, with the exception of the problems of horticulture and fishing, most agriculturists are satisfied with the transitional arrangements; but what concerns many of them is whether we are able to produce the extra food required to meet the needs of going into the Common Market?
May I press the hon. Gentleman a little harder on the subject of marketing boards? Knowing the resounding success of two or three marketing boards, farmers are worried about this aspect of the matter. Could the hon. Gentleman make a statement a little clearer than his past statements?
asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food whether, in view of the agreement for the transitional period of Great Britain's entry into the Common Market, in the event of Great Britain's acceding to the Treaty of Rome he will introduce legislation to control food prices during that period.
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that, whatever our views on entry into the Common Market—and we do not appear to be entirely united on this—all hon. Members are concerned at the prospective rise in food prices? Will he not give an assurance that if we do enter the Common Market the Government will control that rise?
No, Sir. I cannot give any assurance about controlling any rise in the price of food as a result of our entry into the Common Market. What I am able to tell the hon. and learned Gentleman is that revised figures of the increase in the cost of food on entry into the F.E.C. are now being prepared, and I will give them to the House as soon as I can. I am confident that they will show a markedly better picture than that presented in the White Paper of 1970.
We have already made it plain that any increase in the price of food should be more than compensated for by the increase in the standard of living. We should save money on the Exchequer contribution towards agricultural support, and I am certain that some of that money can be used for helping old-age pensioners.
Did not the right hon. Gentleman recently tell a Conservative Party conference that the rise in prices on our entry into the E.E.C. would not be all that much because of the rises which have already taken place? Is it part of the Government's policy to let prices rise so that the impact of joining will be lessened?
The 1970 White Paper gave a wide range for the estimated effect on the cost of food imports of adopting the Common Agricultural Policy but recent trends in world prices, which have tended to rise more rapidly than Community prices, suggest that the effect on import costs might now be towards the lower end of the range.
asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, from information available to him from international sources, what proportion of the average family budget is spent on food in Western European countries; whether this proportion is increasing or declining; and what is the estimate for the future.
The proportion of total consumer expenditure which is spent on food is declining in each of the E.E.C. countries and in the United Kingdom. This trend is expected to continue. As a number of figures are involved, I will, with permission, circulate the latest available information in the OFFICIAL REPORT.
|CONSUMERS' EXPENDITURE ON FOOD EXPRESSED AS A PERCENTAGE OF TOTAL CONSUMERS' EXPENDITURE (AT CURRENT RETAIL PRICES)|
|1969||Not yet available||24·3|
|1970||Not yet available||23·8|
|*Figures include total expenditure in restaurants.|
|†Figures relate to 1967.|
The cost of food index represents about one-quarter of the cost of living index. That percentage is going down in this country and all the E.E.C. countries, and is likely to continue to decline.
The proportion of money spent on foods and other things out of family income varies according to income. When publishing his figures, will the right hon. Gentleman give the proportions per £10 wage band so that we can make a true comparison of how this will affect the general population?
Monetary indications are sometimes misleading. Can the right hon. Gentleman give us any indication of the quantity or quality of the food, which is much more important than the indications which the monetary figures give?
The only indication I can give on that point is that in France the percentage is slightly higher and in Germany it is a good deal lower. But food eating standards from one country to another do not vary all that much.
The variety of horticultural commodities and the range of enterprises concerned with each commodity are too wide to permit an assessment other than in general terms. The transitional arrangements that we have agreed with the European Economic Community should in general enable growers to meet their problems of adaptation.
That is the sort of emotive question which I strongly deplore. I am surprised at my hon. Friend's mentioning this. The fact is that very few people in the horticultural industry need tear British entry, and where there are difficulties the Government are committed already to discussing with the industry the needs of these people for compensation or other help.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that I am personally very much concerned for the livelihood of those who grow tomatoes, cucumbers and other horticultural produce in my constituency, and that I make no apology at all on this or any other occasion on the ground that that may be an emotive approach? Will he not reconsider his answer and produce further information in regard to the horticultural position? Would he not agree that there is danger of horticulture being treated as a Cinderella in this matter, and that whereas we may not be getting very much out of the negotiations on other subjects, we do not even seem to be trying in respect of horticulture?
That is a grossly unfair statement and is not borne out by the facts. I have recently been to the Lea Valley and have found there, amongst the growers, a determination to succeed whatever competition obtains and that they have to face from the Common Market countries. Unlike the case of some other industries which may be under pressure in the Common Market, we have agreed to consider forms of compensation for the horticultural industry.
Will my right hon. Friend, in considering the listing of separate horticultural items, try to assess what the effects of entry will be on my part of the country? I believe that West Cornwall, with its broccoli, early potatoes, flowers and particularly horticultural produce, will not be damaged. We are always having the global statement that horticulture will be damaged, but it should be broken down into separate items.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for what he has said. We know that 40 per cent. of the industry will be completely unaffected by entry. We are concerned with the apple and pear industry, and certainly with the glasshouse crops and early strawberries. I will do my best as time goes on to obtain a more accurate picture and present it to the House.
Will the right hon. Gentleman reconsider his reply to the hon. Member for Holland-with-Boston (Mr. Body). Will he withdraw the charge that the hon. Gentleman made an emotive point and accept that it was, indeed, a substantial point made on behalf of very large numbers of growers?
The price of sugar ex refinery in the E.E.C. is between 25 and 30 per cent. higher than in the United Kingdom. We would be adopting Community prices only gradually over the transitional period of five years.
Is the Minister not being a little coy about the cost of sugar to the housewives if Britain should join the Community? Would he confirm that the retail price in the Common Market ranges from 50 per cent. to 100 per cent. higher than current prices in this country? While a great deal has rightly been said about safeguarding sugar producers, should we not be concerned to safeguard the housewife?
Of course we are concerned with safeguarding the housewife. The margin above the United Kingdom price is greater than 30 per cent. in some cases but no doubt this is due to the lower efficiency in distribution and higher margins on the Continent than here.
I have received inquiries from an hon. Member on behalf of his farming constituents. I explained in reply that the Community's proposals, which relate only to the period up to the end of 1974, are subject to further discussion in Brussels and that my officials are in touch with interests directly affected by them, including the National Farmers' Union.
If any limits are placed on the levels of agricultural production in this country, will the right hon. Gentleman assure the House that they will be to the benefit of our traditional Commonwealth suppliers and not to mop up surpluses artificially created in the Community?
The position is that we are governed by the Commonwealth Sugar Agreement up to the end of 1974. After that time, we would certainly seek for our own industry to be fairly compared with the industries in Europe. The hon. Gentleman will have seen the statement issued after the meeting with the Governments of the developing members of the Commonwealth and the talks on sugar last week.
Even though it is not in his Department, may I ask my right hon. Friend why he does not point out to everyone in the House who is talking about food prices that the rise in gas, coal, electricity and all the things which really affect those living on small fixed incomes——
I have known for a long time of my hon. Friend's interest in gardening, but it requires a considerable feat of imagination to think of the hon. Member for Manchester, Ardwick (Mr. Kaufman) as a tulip.
We have now made clear to the Six our view that the fisheries régime requires modification to meet the needs and circumstances of the enlarged Community, particularly as regards access to inshore waters. We do not consider that the existing provisions, including those relating to conservation, would adequately deal with the problem which would be created by additional fishing effort in waters which are already fully exploited. We have said that what is required is to safeguard all waters within the 6-mile limit measured from the usual base lines—which would, of course, include waters like the Minch and Cardigan Bay lying within straight base lines. We have told the Six that we see no practicable nor orderly way of dealing with additional effort in such waters unless fishing is effectively restricted to vessels genuinely belonging to the ports from which these waters are now being fished.
My right hon. and learned Friend, who will be making a statement tomorrow on the progress of the negotiations, has left the Six in no doubt of the need to secure a satisfactory settlement to this major outstanding issue in the negotiations.
Does my right hon. Friend therefore disagree with the view of those experts who believe that the most important conservation area now lies between the six and 12 miles limit?
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware of the anger felt by the Clyde Fishermen's Association and others in Scotland about the lack of consultation with them before the Government made the six-miles limit concession to the Common Market countries? Will he give those fishing organisations an assurance this afternoon that the Government will offer them an emergency meeting for consultation purposes?
I am seeing the Fisheries Organisation Society representing the inshore fishing industry next week, and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland will be meeting Scottish fishing interests next week as well. I should make it clear to the hon. Gentleman that waters such as the Minch, the Firth, the Clyde, the Moray Firth and Cardigan Bay, lying behind straight base lines, would be subject to the régime, which we have suggested, of genuinely belonging to our own ports.