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Eec (Beef And Veal Imports)

Volume 885: debated on Tuesday 4 February 1975

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11.32 p.m.

I beg to move,

That this House takes note of Commission Document No. R/82/75.
We turn now to the Commission's proposal for the revised import arrangements for beef and veal. These are set out in the document, about which an Explanatory Memorandum has been submitted to the House.

At the moment, the Community is operating a ban on imports of meat apart from the quantities allowed under the GATT quota, and it is also considering the internal beef régime as part of the annual price discussions. The new proposals on the beef import régime are associated with proposals for the internal régime and are also to be seen as paving the way for the removal of the ban in due course.

The proposal described in the document mainly concerns a revision of the system of duties and levies which Com- munity countries apply to imports of beef from non-Community countries. The major part of the document is taken up with the description of a proposed new method of calculating the import levy. In addition, some changes are proposed in certain special arrangements which the Community applies to particular categories of imports.

It would be helpful to the House if I were to describe the import arrangements for beef which are in force at present. Two main mechanisms apply, with slight modifications in the United Kingdom and Ireland, during the transitional period. First, there are duties, charged at different rates for live animals and carcase meat, and calculated on an ad valorem basis. Secondly, there are variable levies intended to make up the difference, if any, between the duty-paid price of third country imports and the guide price for the product concerned. The variable levies are reduced by stages when the representative price, which is the average market price of cattle on Community markets, is above the guide price, and when the representative price is above a certain level the variable levies are suspended altogether.

I should like to say a little about how the Commission's proposal differs from the present system. The Commission proposes to maintain this two-part system of import charges, an ad valorem duty on the one hand, and a variable levy on the other. Moreover, it is not proposing any change in the method of charging the duty. This would continue to be calculated in the same way as at present.

But the method of calculating the levy would be changed in the following ways. Instead of the basic rate of levy being settled every week for live cattle and fresh or chilled beef, and once a month for frozen beef, and being liable to change with that frequency, a basic rate of levy would be calculated only once every three months. This would be determined according to the difference between the Community guide price and the most favourable offer prices in third countries. The basic rate of levy determined in this way would then be open to some variation according to the level of prices on Community markets. I shall not at this time of night detail the mechanism so fully described in Article 12 of the document.

I should like to say something about the reasons for the change. The reasons for these changes in the levy system are twofold. First, by making provision for some increase in the import charges when Community prices are low, the Commission clearly hopes to reduce the risk that the Community will need to have recourse in the future to a total ban on imports. We have all seen the effects of such a ban over the past six months. It would certainly be desirable to avoid similar disruptive measures in the future, if alternative methods can be found of giving reasonable protection to our own producers—and this is a most important matter.

The second reason for the changes is to make the system more predictable, by maintaining a basic rate of levy in force for a longer period and thus helping importers to plan ahead with a reasonable degree of certainty as to the level of charge which their imports will have to face. This too is a sensible objective. We all know that the industry has asked for longer-term assurances, and these changes should help in that direction.

I wish to say a few words about the Commission's proposals. In the Government's view, the EEC Commission is right to be considering changes in the import régime for beef. The present system has not proved adaptable enough to cope with the strains of a difficult market situation, particularly over the past few months. These changes in import arrangements should be seen alongside the current comprehensive discussions on the beef régime.

I should emphasise that they would be an important adjunct to the reforms we are wanting to see in the internal régime if they made it possible for the Community to conduct a more stable trading policy with third countries in the future. In particular, we should be aiming for changes which make it possible for the present suspension of the issue of import licences to be lifted as soon as possible.

Finally, we feel that, seen against this background, the Commission's proposals are constructive and certainly merit much closer examination. We should examine in detail how they compare with the system at present in force. We shall aim to temper the more restrictive aspects of the proposals, and ensure that the in- crease of levies in times of low market prices should not be so high as to be prohibitive. These will be matters for negotiation in the Council of Ministers. We shall be concerned, too, to ensure that, once agreement has been reached on the new arrangements, the present restrictions on imports are lifted at an early date. These will be our objectives in the Community discussions which will take place in the next few weeks.

While I appreciate the practical improvements that may come in the three-month period, may I ask my hon. Friend whether he is saying that, although imports as they are at the moment should be lifted, the effect of this document would be that the reduced levies would be generally higher rather than lower, to prevent the imports that might occur if we retained the old system?

I had almost finished my remarks. The point is that the levies will fluctuate according to market conditions. There would be a built-in mechanism which would give a level of stability. The three-month period will give a long-term assurance which will be better than the present arrangement. I commend the document to the House.

11.41 p.m.

We on the Conservative benches welcome the opportunity to discuss this consultative document. We welcome anything which will help stabilise the beef market, which has been through such difficult times in the past year or 18 months. As far as I am aware this is the first time that the House has had the opportunity to discuss an EEC document before any action has been taken in any other EEC institution. This is to be welcomed.

We are, therefore, debating not a matter which has been decided but the first basic suggestion put forward by the Commission on the subject of the import arrangements for beef and veal from third countries. We shall thus be able to influence the future drafting of the document. This debate involves the levels of customs duties and the levy system to be imposed on such imports.

Under the present EEC system it is a fundamental part of the common agricultural policy that the level of imports is controlled. All Governments recognise the need for agricultural management to protect producers in some way. Farmers worldwide are weak sellers. It is in the interests of the producer and the consumer that this should happen and that the producer should be protected from the extremities of fluctuating supplies. This protection is afforded either through mechanism to maintain market prices, which gives producers the incentive to produce by removing a temporary surplus, through intervention buying in the case of the EEC, or by maintaining producer returns by guaranteed prices while allowing market prices to fall until any surplus is absorbed. This is the way in which the United Kingdom operated prior to our entry to the EEC. I do not believe that either system is satisfactory and I hope to say a few words about some of my suggestions. If the first method of market support is operated, the level of imports must be linked to the internal market situation. This is what this document does.

The EEC beef market was under considerable pressure during 1974. The United Kingdom beef market suffered more than that of any of the other EEC member States because of mistakes made by both the Conservative and Labour Governments in the autumn of 1973 and because of the Government's decision to dispense with any kind of guarantee system. I hope that the Government have learned a lesson from that. There is evidence that they realise what a serious mistake they made and that they intend to ensure that it is not repeated. As a result of those mistakes, the situation got out of hand and imports of beef and veal products, with the exception of those covered by the GATT, were banned. The Minister of Agriculture was a party to that decision.

Will the Minister please clarify these points? If the internal prices are above the guide prices, will the basic levy be allowed in steps of 25 per cent., 50 per cent. and 75 per cent., or will the levy be abolished if the internal price is more than 12 per cent. above the guide price? Conversely, if the price falls to 98 per cent. or below, will the levy be increased in stages of 10 per cent., 20 per cent. and 30 per cent.?

The measures proposed in the document will not solve the present crisis in European beef production. For some time the Conservatives have recognised that the present EEC intervention system has inherent problems in dealing with perishable commodities. Permanent, fiscal intervention is not an effective market guarantee for producers, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Cambridgeshire (Mr. Pym) said on 30th July 1974. In that speech he outlined our policy proposals to obviate frequent recourse to fiscal intervention. He suggested that a guarantee should include a monetary payments system backed by intervention—in other words, a dual system, trying to get the best out of the system which was operated in Britain before entry to the EEC and the intervention system. However, it would still be necessary with such a system to have the benefit of the measures now proposed.

I want now to advance one or two ideas of my own, though I do not commit my party to them. We must go much further and think in terms of production and marketing authorities for meat and other commodities. At last the National Farmers' Union is thinking on those lines. It is now circularising its branches to ascertain how much support there is for the idea. I urge the Government to think seriously about it. It seems absurd for us to create mountains of different products and then to think of ways of disposing of them.

I do not believe that the problem is as great or as difficult as some people suggest. Strangely enough, we in this country have been eating the same amount of meat for the past 10 years. We eat 3 million tons of meat, year in and year out. It fluctuates by only a very small amount. The same is true in general of the EEC. Surely means can be devised whereby our beef herd or our pig herd does not increase at such a rate that suddenly we are lumbered with a great surplus of meat here or there.

There is a place for planning, and I think that this is very important in the context of a world food shortage. I do not believe that it is acceptable for millions of tons of grain to be fed to unwanted cattle which are an embarrassment to all concerned. I hope that right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House will give some thought to this matter with a view to seeing whether a little more logical planning might not help in marrying up the required supply to the demand.

There are one or two questions which I wish to put to the Minister. May I ask him what progress has been made towards a new beef régime—I know that it is under discussion at the moment—and whether the Government have put forward any proposals for discussion with the EEC about the prospects for marketing boards such as I have suggested?

Subject to replies to those questions, the Opposition support these proposals.

11.51 p.m.

This has been an astonishing day for me. Our main business today, the previous debate and now this one have all produced surprises. It is obvious that someone up there is listening to me. He has taken the physical form of the hon. Member for Norfolk, North (Mr. Howell)—but none the worse for that.

I wish to differ from the hon. Gentleman in respect of one matter, however. It arose when he said that the Government had learned a lesson in relation to the ending of the guarantee system. I know that the hon. Gentleman is not always at one with his own party, but, with respect, it was not this Government who dispensed with the guarantee system but his own. What the present Government did was to remove the intervention buying, and the hon. Gentleman voiced his objections to that system.

My point was that the present Government removed all support. There would have been intervention support if my party had remained in government. It must be at the door of the present Government that all support was taken from beef producers, and this Government are largely to blame for the troubles we are experiencing at the moment.

It was not so much that the previous administration removed that. It was that they failed to insist, as they did later in October and November, on the restoration of a guarantee structure. That was the deficiency. I believe that it could have been done at that time. In the same way as we said "No" to price increases and "Yes" to subsidy support to pigs, I believe that at that time, before we embarked on renegotiations, we would have been able to say "This is what we are doing. You have read our manifesto in Brussels, and this is what we intend to do now."

Instead, we entered into discussions and accepted from day to day that which was going on in the Market. Before long it was impossible to do anything else. We should have said "We intend to do this" and I think that we would have got away with it.

I must thank the Minister for his explanation. These are difficult regulations and I cannot pretend to understand them. As always, however, the Explanatory Memorandum is helpful, and before dealing with the speech of the hon. Member for Norfolk, North there are one or two aspects of it that I wish to discuss.

Paragraph 3(b) of the Explanatory Memorandum says:
"abatement of the levy in times of high Community prices would not be complete until prices rose 12 per cent above the guide price."
That means an additional consumer price equivalent to 6 per cent on the levy over an extended period.

Paragraph 3(c) states:
"increases in the levy in times of low Community prices would be an innovation".
I should like an explanation of that because it smacks of the same thing. We should not support beef at the expense of the consumer who is already paying quite enough. There are other ways of supporting the market. At the moment it seems to support itself on a system of levies which does not augur well for the discussions in Brussels.

The hon. Gentleman referred to regulations. I understand that this is a consultative document. There are no regulations involved. We are discussing whether the proposals put forward by the Commission are acceptable to the House or, indeed, to the Community as a whole.

I understand. The Explanatory Memorandum clearly concerns "a proposed Council regulation". I do not know what the objection is. We are entitled to discuss what is proposed.

The hon. Gentleman clearly does not understand me. The hon. Gentleman referred to proposed regulations. There are no proposed regulations in this document. This is in fact a Green Paper. It is putting forward certain ideas for possibly dealing with the beef and veal régime, nothing more.

That raises an interesting point. The Minister might like to intervene to explain the matter. The opening three lines of the Explanatory Memorandum state:

"Document R/82/75 of 9th January 1975 concerning a proposed Council regulation modifying the system of trade arrangements with third countries in the beef and veal sector."

Are we discussing a proposed Council regulation or are we not? It might be useful if the Minister would tell us what we are discussing, because there is clearly some dispute. I shall have to continue. I must take the Government's view on this matter. I am glad that we are getting instructions from the European Assembly, but it does not seem to be the right way to conduct our affairs in this House.

I should prefer the Government to give their views on this matter as they represent us in Brussels. I am not being touchy on this matter.

I intervene to help my hon. Friend. I repeat what I said earlier. We are discussing a document which is before us for discussion. These points are put before us by the EEC as the basis for discussions which will be pursued next week by my right hon. Friend in Brussels. As the hon. Member for Saffron Walden (Mr. Kirk) said, it is a Green Paper at this stage.

The Explanatory Memorandum, signed by the Parliamentary Secretary, concerns "a proposed Council regulation". I think we are being a bit over-semantic.

I have read on. The suggestion is that there is a consultative document before us. I understand that. It is a consultative document which contains certain suggestions. I understand that too. However, the suggestions are concerned with a possible regulation which will be brought forward.

What are the Opposition Front Bench trying to prove? What kind of nonsense are we getting from Europe? What does it do to a man to make him come in with that kind of nonsense at this time of night?

The next point relates to paragraph 4:
"The chief consequences of giving effect to the proposals would be that when market prices were low producers would have greater protection from imports from outside the Community."
Again, the emphasis is on producer support. Are not all these matters directly related to producer support at the expense of the consumer?

An important point was raised by the hon. Member for Norfolk, North. There was no nonsense in his speech, incidentally. He went on to the beef régime and everything else. With respect, I intend to do the same. My question relates to the proposals which are to be discussed this month in Brussels. As I understand it, we shall be striving to achieve, first for Europe and, if that fails, for Britain alone, a guaranteed price deficiency payments system.

I think that our proposals are right, but my anxiety is about the heavy emphasis laid in this consultative document, or Green Paper, on the import levy as a means of producer support. That seems to be a perfectly logical point against the background of what the hon. Member said. I should like to know the present position facing us. Has there been any change in the situation? Will we get this through or not?

The situation was presented to the House as if we had accepted the principle of intervention temporarily merely as a sop to the Community in return for its enormous concession in ultimately letting us have a deficiency payments structure instead of intervention. But it was presented in Brussels in such a way as to suggest that we had been granted this temporary exception in return for accepting the intervention principle. If the interpretation of Brussels is correct, we may be in trouble. This may be another reason why the Government should have amended their own motion, so as to strengthen their hand. I should like more information about that.

I hope the Government will also make it clear that we reject a system of producer support based upon high end prices, import levies to support those end prices and intervention buying to bite in if the price goes below the fixed price. This House resents and rejects that system and the Minister must carry that message to Brussels. We reject the interpretation that the deficiency payments structure was a temporary exception. The Minister must make it clear that the House was given exactly the reverse interpretation, and this he must adhere to.

The hon. Member for Norfolk, North is right. I do not believe that the British people will tolerate for very long, nor will the farmers welcome, a system based on intervention buying. The hon. Member is right to say that the problem of planning ahead for beef is not insuperable, for the simple reason of lack of elasticity in demand. There is considerable elasticity temporarily in relation to price, but generally there is, as with most of our basic foodstuffs, fairly regular consumption of beef. This means that we can plan ahead.

Is that impossible? We do it with potatoes; they are an easy crop to do it with. We can go wrong—perhaps 100,000 tons short or 100,000 tons too much—but we can cope with that. In the first case we can import, although we do not want to do so. In the second case we can buy in at an intervention price. I do not object to that kind of intervention buying in, when it is linked to a system which tries to obviate the necessity for intervention.

That is very different from intervention as a policy which offers high prices for overproduction and then buys in. Rather it is planning for what we think we will need. That is what we shall produce, and if we go wrong we have to safeguard through intervention buying the producer who has produced in good faith. There are ways in which we have gone wrong in the past, but we have been able to deal with them. Therefore, I welcome the hon. Member's proposals and the fresh thinking from the Opposition benches. I welcome support from wherever it comes.

The hon. Member's idea for producer or marketing authorities and my idea for commodity commissions are not far apart. The difference between us is that the hon. Member puts more stress on the rôle of the producers, whereas I see the situation as one involving the producers, other sections of the trade and the Government in forward planning. I accept the hon. Member's point, but I do not believe that intervention buying for beef has given support where it is needed. We are concentrating our cereal areas on producing cereals for meat production. This cannot be tolerated for very long in the world situation, and it is time we faced up to that.

The way forward is not through grain production for meat but through the development of our grasslands. Dr. Pereira was right in saying that the grasslands could be improved in two ways. We could have still more intelligent grassland farming, first by investing more money in it and secondly by turning more of our marginal land into good grassland. Both are costly and neither will be done as long as we have an end-price policy for beef and other commodities.

An end-price policy is the enemy of good husbandry. It is a policy which advises the farmer not to produce what the ground can produce, to farm not for need but for the cash return. This distorts good farming and husbandry. This is a question not of making a fast buck on the Stock Exchange but of farming soil which will be used in 10, 20 or 30 years' time. That is why I welcome the points put forward by the hon. Member for Norfolk, North.

I hope that the Minister will comment on the points raised tonight which cover a wider range of our farming needs. It is not possible to implement any of these points within the present straitjacket of the common agricultural policy because, quite apart from the specific things we are renegotiating, the structure itself is based upon principles such as a high-end price, intervention buying and import levies. That will prevent us, no matter what advanced thinking we may employ, from implementing these fresh ideas.

Surely we have had an example this evening in the previous debate of how we have been able to alter the CAP to our way of thinking on the question of aid for hill farmers. Having done that, perhaps we can do the same with the matters we have been discussing in this debate.

I am not sure that the hon. Member's example proves his case. The Government have had to change a motion to secure the support of the House in trying to achieve a change in Brussels. That is what the exercise was all about. The basic regulations had nothing to do with the precise and detailed examination of British hill farming. It was a question of linking the improvement of British hill farming with Community policies.

Without a basic change in the philosophy and structure of the common agricultural policy, the far-sighted ideas of the hon. Member for Norfolk, North cannot be put into practice. That is the message of tonight's debate.

12.10 a.m.

I entered the Chamber as an interested listener, but because of certain things that have been said and others that have not been said I should like to make a brief contribution to the debate.

I was much impressed by the refreshing approach of the hon. Member for Norfolk, North (Mr. Howell). There was a great deal in what he said. It was a Government of his party who set up the Milk Marketing Board, an example of the sort of agency that I think he had in mind. When we were negotiating our entry into the Common Market we had to go very carefully to see whether the board could remain in its present form. I believe that there are still some doubts about gradings and sales of milk, and such matters may yet be difficult. We must bear in mind that that agency was in some difficulty and subject to question when we consider extending the example to beef, as the hon. Gentleman suggested.

My hon. Friend the Minister did not say whether he wholeheartedly agreed with the document or whether he had any reservations. I gather from something of a non-speech that he went along with the proposals in the so-called Green Paper. I hope that my hon. Friend will confirm that, and that if he has no reservations on the matter he will say so.

I had hoped that all I need to do was to make my brief intervention at the end of my hon. Friend's speech, but that is not so because he did not confirm that the proposal is another device to keep up the internal price of beef. Our import possibilities are cut by a regulation which says that there shall be no imports. We are now changing that scheme for a variable height of tariff or levy fence. As the internal price of beef goes down, so the levy goes up, and as the internal price of beef goes up so the levy comes down pro rata, so that the tariff fence is kept up almost as high as it would be, and the cost can only be to the producer.

Therefore, I ask my hon. Friend to deny that the purpose of the Green Paper is to maintain the price of beef and veal higher than it would otherwise be if there were free access of supplies of beef and veal from outside the EEC. I am sorry that when I intervened my hon. Friend did not admit that straight away. It is clear that that is the whole purpose of the scheme. Maybe it is a better scheme than suddenly shutting it off by a regulation presented overnight at the Council of Ministers.

The policy implication paragraph of the Explanatory Memorandum summarises the nature of the document inadequately. The document—mysteriously numbered R/82/75, the same sort of nomenclature as if it were a regulation—gives the actual figures in a couple of succinct paragraphs. It illustrates my point that as the internal price goes down so the levy goes up, and vice versa. The last lines of Article 12 read:
"the basic levy shall apply as fixed by the Commision in accordance with Articles 10 and 11."
It is an annex to the so-called Green Paper, but it is fairly clear that this last and not very well-headed sheet is the draft regulation. If it is not, there would not be the heading "Article 12" and the language would not be the same. I think that my hon. Friend the Member for Renfrewshire, West (Mr. Buchan) is correct. Although it may be presented as a Green Paper, it is clearly in the form of a draft regulation.

In submitting the Explanatory Memorandum, the Minister was rather less than frank with the House. He did not go into the figures or the implications which are clearly set out in the document. While this may be an improvement on the sort of open-shut method which we have at the moment for administrative convenience, it is maintaining the levy system which keeps out meat from other parts of the world which may be available at certain times to those inside the EEC.

By virtue of what my hon. Friend did not say in his opening speech and by virtue of the fact that the Explanatory Memorandum is coy on the matter of figures which are clearly set out in the draft regulations, it seems that the Government have been less than frank with the House in the way they have presented this matter to us. There is a regulation which stops entry and this is a modification of it. It is not something to which we can necessarily object. As I see it, it is a change of method. It is a change of method which some of us do not like. We have said so on many occasions.

12.17 a.m.

I do not know whether my hon. Friend the Member for Newham. South (Mr. Spearing) was in the House when I introduced the document that is now before us on which he suggests that I was rather less than frank. Having suggested to the House that there were hidden figures which were being kept secret, he suddenly fell upon Article 12, to which I have earlier made reference, and said that all the secrets were revealed. I referred to Article 12 and said that I did not intend to go through it in detail. I presumed that hon. Members had already done so.

I think that my hon. Friend has mistaken the tenor of my remarks. I was referring not to his speech but to the content of the document—namely, the Explanatory Memorandum prepared by his right hon. Friend. It would have been easy to put the figures in the memorandum but the Government chose not to do so.

I am glad that the hon. Gentleman is still my hon. Friend and that his allegation of lack of frankness does not refer to me. This is a draft regulation. At the very beginning it states:

"It seems necessary to set out new guidelines in addition to the proposals made in January 1974, taking into account (i) the views of the Council when it examined the proposals in question and (ii) the events experienced during the last few months."
I said in my concluding remarks—I mention the matter because my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, South has asked for my views on the document—that seen against the background to which I had made reference the Commission's proposals are constructive and merit closer examination and that we need to examine them in detail to determine how they compare with the present system. I said that we would aim to temper the more restrictive aspects of the proposals and ensure that the increase in levies in times of low market prices was not as high as to be prohibitive. Those were a few of the comments which I made about the document.

I think that I have to protect myself on this occasion. My hon. Friend has just said that the proposals merit closer examination. Surely the House is entitled to know the conclusions of such examination at this stage. It was that sort of remark which I thought was less than my hon. Friend's best.

I do not think that I should requote my speeches at this time of day. I suggest to my hon. Friend that he reads my speech in Hansard. He will then see a better assessment of my views.

My hon. Friend was, I think, the first to intervene on levies. The levies have a higher incidence than under the old régime, but we do not believe that they will prevent imports. To do that would require the ban which is at present in force. The effect will need some assessment in the forthcoming Council discussions.

When the Minister said in reply to his hon. Friend that the Government would have to consider a number of aspects of the proposal and, naturally, could not at this stage give the outcome of the consideration, did he mean that when this proposal, however modified, was eventually embodied in the real regulation, the regulation would come before the House in due course so that the House could see the conclusion before it was finally agreed?

I do not know whether I can give the assurance that the right hon. Gentleman seeks, but we are fortunate to have an hour and a half to discuss the proposal and the views which have been expressed will be taken into account.

As the hon. Member for Norfolk, North (Mr. Howell) said, we can help to influence the future drafting of this document. We have had some time in which to comment on it. The levy scheme will protect producers at home, and that is right because our home market is of great importance. I recognise the problems that face the home producer, especially after the events of the past year.

I agree with the hon. Gentleman that the level of imports must be linked to our own market situation. We have not dispensed with the guarantee system. When allegations are made by the Opposition that we have taken away the guarantees, it is timely to point out that it was the Opposition when in power who took away the fatstock guarantee scheme which gave a floor to the market. It has taken months of negotiations by my right hon. Friend in Brussels to bring about the situation which the Opposition dispensed with.

Did not the Minister fail to operate intervention, which was the policy of the Conservative Government—a policy which we fully intended to implement when the time came?

I shall deal with intervention in a moment when I conclude my remarks.

As the hon. Gentleman said, if the Community price were above the guide price the levy would be reduced. Similarly, the hon. Gentleman was correct in his analysis of the way in which the levy would increase as the price dropped below the guide price. The hon. Gentleman's ideas on support systems were interesting but, I think, out of order in this debate. However, his idea of combining the best of the EEC and the old United Kingdom schemes is close to the ideas which we have put forward in Brussels.

We are awaiting the farmers' views on the marketing board. The hon. Gentleman has seen my right hon. Friend and me in a private interview at the Ministry and has expressed his keenness on marketing boards. I repeat the point that it is for the industry to come forward with proposals, which will be considered by the Ministry. We have not proposed marketing boards to the EEC. We are awaiting the producers' reactions to the NFU questionnaire. Marketing boards cannot operate without producer support.

The hon. Gentleman asked about progress towards a new beef régime. The matter is currently under discussion in Brussels.

My hon. Friend the Member for Renfrewshire, West (Mr. Buchan) was concerned about the level of the levy and the impact on the consumer. These proposals are unlikely to have any consumer impact. The Community is almost 100 per cent. self-sufficient in beef and the United Kingdom is 91 per cent. self-sufficient. The home supplies will set the tone of prices in 1975. My hon. Friend knows that we have rejected permanent intervention as the main method of support. I remind him that in our manifesto, which he is fond of quoting, we said that the intervention system of the common agricultural policy had not worked. That is still our view, and we are therefore negotiating for more flexibility in the beef régime. My right hon. Friend has secured notable successes in the past year with regard to the introduction of the beef premium, the variable premium and so on.

It might be useful to draw attention to the fact that there were two manifestos last year. The October manifesto refers back approvingly to the February manifesto, and the February manifesto refers to the party policy document as being the objective to be negotiated. Therefore the substantive document, not a Green Paper, is the policy document. It is a question of looking not only at the hip-pocket manifesto but at the wallet-size one too.

I do not intend to go into the differences in the two manifestos. All I know is that I have my pocket-size manifesto here, and I hope that my hon. Friend will read his copy of it, together with his Bible, before he goes to bed.

My hon. Friend referred to producer support and spoke about import levies. The traditional and main means of producer support in the EEC is intervention. We are aiming to modify this fundamentally by persuading the Community to provide producer support through a variable premium, underpinned by a measure of support buying. The present régime ought to be far more flexible than it is, and the objective of my right hon. Friend will be to bring about the necessary changes in that respect.

In view of these remarks, I feel that the House would be well advised to take note of the document to which I referred earlier.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved,

That this House takes note of Commission Document No. R/82/75.