Only a few days to go: We’re raising £25,000 to keep TheyWorkForYou running and make sure people across the UK can hold their elected representatives to account.Donate to our crowdfunder
Does the Minister agree with the Chief Secretary to the Treasury that the common agricultural policy costs the average family in this country £28 per week? Is it not about time the Government took firmer action to scrap that policy, which is costing the taxpayer billions of pounds a year and leading to mountains of food going to waste and, last year alone, to more than £300 million being lost in fraud?
Figures of that kind are extremely difficult to be precise about. Subsequent calculations undertaken by my Department with the full agreement of the Treasury suggest that the sum is much lower—something like £4 a week. The whole basis of the figures is guesstimates about what will happen to world prices because of the dumping of agricultural products, and they are not a very satisfactory way to examine what will happen in future. I am not disagreeing with the hon. Gentleman—we want a far cheaper policy which is much nearer to the market. British farming is quite efficient enough nowadays to compete on the world market, and many aspects of the CAP are now inhibiting the gains in efficiency and proper farming practices. We should like people to be freer and freer to compete.
My hon. Friend is right. The history of British food production is entirely different from that in most of continental Europe. We have had a long tradition, going right back to the repeal of the corn laws, of fundamentally free trade in food, and the 1840s, 1850s and 1860s saw the departure from the land of a large number of people who had worked it. In many countries in Europe, that process has yet to be undertaken and there is a completely different land-holding structure as a result. My hon. Friend is right to say that we often find ourselves defending somewhat different interests from the rest of Europe.
Is the Minister aware of the fact that during a recent visit of the Select Committee on European Legislation the hon. Member for Northampton, North (Mr. Marlow) announced to a bemused Brussels audience that he did not want the CAP to be changed because it did too well for British farmers? Does the Minister share that view?
Notwithstanding my hon. Friend's important comments, the Government's position is that we want a policy which is cheaper for the consumer, which allows greater freedom to farmers not to have their business dictated by quotas and controls and which is cheaper for the taxpayer, too. I also believe that in such a world, if we can bring down agricultural subsidies in north America at the same time, British farming will do very well.