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The Commission has now included a number of its recommendations on the improvement of the common agricultural policy in its price proposals and these are under consideration by the Council. Other aspects will be considered after the common prices have been settled for this year.
Will my right hon. Friend give an estimate of the amount by which he expects these reforms to reduce the United Kingdom contribution to the budget? Is it not the case that these proposals fall far short of the much-needed and thorough-going reform of the CAP that he himself was seeking and that we were promised?
I cannot give an estimate of what the effect will be, but I certainly want to move further than this. We have to work on the proposals that the Commission has put forward first and then see how much further we can go. I know that I can count on my hon. Friend's support to do this in the next Parliament.
Does the right hon. Gentleman not feel a certain sense of shame in that he has been a member of a Government whose main policy appears to have been confrontation at home and capitulation in Europe? Instead of grovelling to the French, ought not he and his colleagues to have been seeking to carry out a radical reform of the CAP, thereby contributing to a substantial reduction in the price of food?
There is such a total unreality in the basis of that question that the hon. Member must be singularly out of touch with the efforts I have been making in Brussels in this respect. I shall be in Brussels next week, and I invite the hon. Member to assist me in that process.
There will be two aspects to my answer on that. First, as I have indicated, certain matters are within the ambit of the discussion on Community prices for the coming year. They must be concluded within the next few weeks. The longer-term issues will be subject to discussion later in the year and I cannot give any time scale in relation to when they will be either agreed or put into operation.
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that that answer will do nothing to remove the suspicion that we shall have a prices-and-a-strike rather than a prices-at-a-stroke election? Will he comment on the answer just given by his right hon. Friend about the intervention board, when he had to defend the indefensible by saying, first, that we had a stockpile of only 25 tons of beef and then saying that these 25 tons would be remarkably effective if there were a serious shortage?
The hon. Member appears to be confused in his thinking. The Intervention Board carries out a function within the operation of the common agricultural policy in each country within the Community. We accepted that when we joined, just as the Labour Government said they accepted the CAP when the negotiations started. They have accepted it and we propose to work it. As for beef, a small quantity in Northern Ireland has gone into intervention, but if substantial quantities went to intervention it would prevent a sudden shortage pushing the prices right up. That would be a reassurance to our farmers and our housewives, who would know that prices could not rise to a very high level.
Will the Minister not just admit openly and honestly that the purpose of the Intervention Board is to keep prices up? Will he give a guarantee that in the forthcoming discussions he will reject any proposals to increase the price of beef? In the meantime will he correct his right hon. Friend about the facts of beef consumption? Is it not a fact that between 1953—when there was rationing—and 1973 the household consumption of beef fell from 37 lbs per head to 19 lbs per head, and that even in the short period of the right hon. Gentleman's Government there has been a 25 per cent. drop since 1970 in the consumption of carcase meat by old-age pensioners?
I am sure that the hon. Member does not wish to mislead the House, but nevertheless succeeds on occasions. I have given the true facts many times concerning the official figures of food moving into consumption. That should be of interest to the hon. Member, because it covers all types of food. In addition, the consumption of meat has risen and has continued to rise as a totality, and that includes all types of beef. I know that the hon. Member will be pleased to know that in a week towards the end of January—the last week for which I have seen figures—the amount of beef available on the market was 6,000 tons more than in the corresponding week the year before. That shows that more is available for the housewife as a result of the Government's policy.