Food Prices (EEC Membership Effects)

Oral Answers to Questions — Prices and Consumer Protection – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 8th July 1974.

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Photo of Mr Robert Redmond Mr Robert Redmond , Bolton West 12:00 am, 8th July 1974

asked the Secretary of State for Prices and Consumer Protection what proportion of the increase in the United Kingdom retail price index for food since January 1973 is attributable to membership of the EEC.

Photo of Kenneth Clarke Kenneth Clarke Shadow Spokesperson (Work and Pensions)

asked the Secretary of State for Prices and Consumer Protection what proportion of the increase in the United Kingdom retail price index for food since January 1973 is attributable to British membership of the EEC.

Photo of Mrs Shirley Williams Mrs Shirley Williams , Hertford and Stevenage

The increase in the United Kingdom retail price index for food attributable to our membership of the EEC is currently estimated to be between ½ and 1 per cent. But the House will realise that the further we move from the date of entry the more difficult it becomes to assess what prices might have been had we stayed outside the EEC.

Photo of Mr Robert Redmond Mr Robert Redmond , Bolton West

I accept what the Secretary of State says, but does she not agree that there is a terrible misconception about food prices in the Common Market? Would she not be serving the country well by letting the true facts be known about what is happening? Does she agree that if we were to leave the EEC it would be bound to lead to increases in food prices far greater than those we have had? Will she recall her words of a few minutes ago when she said that someone was not helping the country by giving credence to false figures?

Photo of Mrs Shirley Williams Mrs Shirley Williams , Hertford and Stevenage

The price of grain and sugar is lower at EEC levels than at world price levels, but the price of dairy products is higher at EEC levels than at world price levels. It is impossible for us at this stage to judge the future movement of world prices and, while it is true that the common agricultural policy has not had the effect on food prices which it was believed in some quarters it would have, renegotiation of the CAP to stop it acting as a ratchet mechanism against the fall in prices is a very important national objective.

Photo of Mr John Lee Mr John Lee , Birmingham Handsworth

Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that we do not want guidelines from the Common Market to stop us reducing our prices? It is important that we should disregard the CAP wherever it is damaging to our economy, as undoubtedly it is on many matters.

Photo of Mrs Shirley Williams Mrs Shirley Williams , Hertford and Stevenage

I accept that where the CAP acts against a fall in market prices it is important to renegotiate it, and beef is an example of how these things can go wrong.

Photo of Mr Peter Blaker Mr Peter Blaker , Blackpool South

Is the right hon. Lady aware that my right hon. Friend the Member for Grantham (Mr. Godber) proposed last November some radical changes in the CAP which would have had the effect to which she has just referred and that at about the same time the Commission published a substantial document for the same purpose?

Photo of Mrs Shirley Williams Mrs Shirley Williams , Hertford and Stevenage

The Commission's document, which I believe had the support of the right hon. Member for Grantham (Mr. Godber) and, for that matter, of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, indicated that the most efficient farms should be the basis of CAP prices. I think that, regardless of party, we would all endorse that objective since it would be not only in the British national interest but in the long-term interests of the efficiency of agriculture throughout Europe.

Photo of Mr John Ellis Mr John Ellis , Brigg and Scunthorpe

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the average amount spent on food in Common Market countries is considerably higher than it is in this country and, therefore, that harmonisation with the EEC must have a deleterious effect on wage earners in this country?

Photo of Mrs Shirley Williams Mrs Shirley Williams , Hertford and Stevenage

My hon. Friend is right in the sense that the price levels for food in Britain are well below those which were common in Europe before we entered the Common Market. The problem which none of us can estimate accurately is how far the situation would change back to what it was when we joined. That is a matter for argument which I do not wish to enter into now.