European Community (Membership)

Part of Orders of the Day — Business of the House (Supply) – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 8th April 1975.

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Photo of Mr Michael Shersby Mr Michael Shersby , Hillingdon Uxbridge 12:00 am, 8th April 1975

In the remaining nine minutes of debate, I shall seek to say a few words on the question of access to food supplies, which I believe to be one of the most crucial items in our membership of the EEC. Few of us in the House tonight will have thought of the possibility of shortages of some foods in Britain in peacetime—a situation unknown in a period of 150 years. That is what may happen if we leave the EEC, where we now have a prior claim to our share of the production of our partners. Only about 55 per cent. of the food eaten in the United Kingdom is home-produced. The importation of the balance has not until recent years presented a real problem since our growing wealth has more than kept pace with the increase in population and the expected improvement in living standards. Additionally, until the Second World War we had priority of access to food supplies from the Dominions and Colonies. Accordingly, we grew accustomed to shopping for the national larder with money in our pockets and to buying other people's surpluses in privileged conditions.

Circumstances today are very different. We have a continuing balance of payments deficit, our relationship with our former overseas territories has completely changed, and world food surpluses—which have never existed in a real sense since millions of people die of starvation and malnutrition each year—have disappeared. World reserves of wheat have been reduced to 6½ per cent. of production in 1974–75 compared with a figure of 23 per cent. in 1969–70. A series of bad harvests, rapidly increasing world population and growing food consumption in former exporting countries, have led to a position where there is little, if any, cheap food left in the world. We are now shopping with an overdrawn bank account, in a short-supply situation, and without priority access to our former suppliers, who as the recent sugar crisis so clearly demonstrated, now sell to the highest bidder.

In this new scene our membership of the Community has already been of great value in protecting us from abnormally high prices. A total of 59 per cent. of our meat and 53 per cent. of our cereals now come from the Community compared with 46 per cent. and 19 per cent. respectively in 1970. It is, however, to assure our food supplies in the future, both short-term and potentially long-term, that our continuing membership of the Community is essential.

In the 1975 price review the Government gave estimates of United Kingdom self-sufficiency in various major food products. If these are compared with the average of the latest figures available from the Community they show that the Community is over 90 per cent. self-sufficient in 15 out of 20 main commodities, whereas the United Kingdom reaches this figure for only six out of 20. There is not one product in respect of which our self-sufficiency rating is better than that of the Community, and only four—milk. oats, potatoes and eggs—in which it is level with that of the Community. It is therefore evident that staying in the Community will assure us of priority access to its food production, which will go a long way towards supplying our needs.

Outside the Community we shall be in a queue with the rest of the world and with no advantages or rights to priority for Community surpluses. There would therefore be no question of a return to the Commonwealth preference system. Our major Commonwealth partners have already stated that they wish us to stay in the Community. They are unlikely to help us if we leave. Let us not forget that 46 developing countries by their signature to the Lomé Convention in February, agreed to grant the Community most favoured nation treatment in return for a guarantee of free access to the Community for 94 per cent. of their exports of agricultural products, which will have preference over exports from third countries.

I am therefore certain that to maintain present levels of world food consumption, which are only too often tragically inadequate in some countries, food supplies must double by the end of the century. How can it possibly be advocated that the United Kingdom, with its high proportion of food imports, should deliberately exclude itself from a Community which can assure us that our needs will be supplied?

For those reasons, if for no other, I believe that it is in the intrests of our country to remain in the Community. For that reason I shall vote for the recommendation tomorrow night.