Protein Deposit and Private Storage Aid

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 12th April 1976.

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Photo of Mr Francis Pym Mr Francis Pym , Cambridgeshire 12:00 am, 12th April 1976

I beg to move, as an amendment to the Question, to leave out 'takes note' and to insert 'disapproves' instead thereof.

I congratulate the Minister on his reappointment. His first appearance in the House as a result of that is not a particularly auspicious occasion. I support him in his remarks about the Scrutiny Committee, which is extremely valuable to the House.

In quoting and requoting the passage from the Committee's Eleventh Report, the right hon. Gentleman should acknowledge that the Committee did not in any way restrict his negotiating position. He cannot escape from his responsibility for the arrangement which he finally agreed.

We are concerned about the effect of these Instruments on the United Kingdom. We disapprove of the United Kingdom aspect. Other countries can speak for themselves but I am told that poultry producers and agriculture Ministers in other countries also disapprove. It is surprising that the scheme went through and many of us cannot understand how it did.

The European Parliament debated the storage aspect and my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, West (Mr. Scott-Hopkins) and the hon. Member for Crewe (Mrs. Dunwoody) took part in the debate. The Commissioner said in reply that it the European Parliament rejected the scheme, the Commission would reconsider it this week and put it to the Council for decision in the middle of May, which will create uncertainty. He also said that the matter would probably go before GATT, which creates another element of uncertainty.

Nobody denies that the disposal of surpluses which inevitably arise from time to time is a problem. The precise method of disposal must depend on the circumstances, but the method applied in these Documents, even with the slight amendments, is not an acceptable way for the United Kingdom to try to flatten the skimmed milk powder mountain that exists in Europe.

The United Kingdom has almost no surplus and is in no sense a contributor to the surplus. Not only do we have a shortage of milk produced at home, but we are extremely valuable customers to our European neighbours. We already take some of their surplus in the form of butter and cheese.

We could and should increase our own output of these commodities. But even if we do, this country will still remain an excellent market for food from other countries, because even the most optimistic projection of the expansion of British agriculture still leaves an enormous gap to be filled by imports. Therefore, so far from having any responsibility for the mountain, we are already contributing substantially to reducing it as an ordinary matter of trade.

Secondly, the new scheme, if it ever gets off the ground properly, will require us to put into animal feed such small reserve of powder as we have and to buy the rest across the exchanges and import a tonnage that we do not want and for which we have no need. Worse than that, it is expensive for what it is and will raise the price of feeding stuffs, which means higher prices in the shops.

Not only is this increase in price avoidable, but it is unfair. It leads me to my third reason, that the impact will fall directly on the costs of compounders and of farmers who are not even involved in milk production. It will fall on pig producers and poultry men, and beef producers to some extent. None of these producers has any remote connection with the skimmed milk powder mountain.

What is more, our poultry men produce a significant proportion of our meat requirements at most reasonable prices, and without making any demands on the Exchequer. They make minimal demands on the European Community budget too. Eggs and poultry account for 0·47 per cent. of it, and pigs 1·33 per cent., compared with milk which takes 37·6 per cent. It is quite unjust to expect the pig man and the poultry man to rescue another sector of food production in other countries from their own excesses. The Government brought back this deal as part of their package and they have responsibility for it.

The fourth reason is a particularly bad one from the United Kingdom point of view. This country happens to be a heavy user of animal compounds, the price of which is a sensitive element in production costs, and therefore ultimately in consumer prices. These costs are already going up as the pound falls, and the effect of the scheme will bear unduly and additionally on the United Kingdom.

Fifthly, it was produced at virtually no notice and, despite what the Minister said tonight, without thorough consultations about the implications, both technical and financial. The Grain and Feed Trade Association has described the consultations as a mockery. It was asked for its views without being given the full details of the system—