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Food And Live Animals

Volume 886: debated on Monday 17 February 1975

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asked the Secretary of State for Trade what proportion of the United Kingdom deficit with EEC countries in 1974 arose from trade in food and live animals.


asked the Secretary of State for Trade by how much the trade deficit in food and live animals has increased in percentage terms between (1) the United Kingdom and the six original members of the EEC and (2) the United Kingdom and the rest of the world between 1971 and 1974.

In 1974 the crude trade deficit—that is, the difference between exports valued fob and imports valued cif—in food and live animals with the Six accounted for 33 per cent. of our crude trade deficit in all goods with the Six. Between 1971 and 1974 the crude trade deficit in food and live animals increased by 297 per cent. The corresponding figure for the rest of the world is 37 per cent.

Will the hon. Gentleman help the House by relating that answer and the Secretary of State's earlier answers to the answer given by the Secretary of State for Prices and Consumer Protection last week that food Prices in this country were now rather lower than they would be if we were outside the EEC? Is not the only way of reconciling these two Government statements to agree that our food importers have been switching on a massive scale to supplies within the EEC as these are cheaper and more secure?

One can draw several conclusions from the switch in our trade, but none of them has necessarily to be picked out as being more important than another. For example, it is a fundamental principle of the common agricultural policy that there is Community preference and that one gives preference to food supplies from within the Community irrespective of price comparisons between supplies inside and outside. We should also take into account the depreciation of sterling. The argument as to whether food is or is not cheaper inside the EEC was effectively answered by my hon. Friend the Minister of State for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food on 23rd January, when he gave a list of commodities in three sections: first, those for which prices were lower inside the EEC; secondly, those for which there was no significant difference; and thirdly, those for which prices were higher outside the EEC.

Is my hon. Friend aware that the most fundamental issue facing the people of the United Kingdom is the facts of the case? Every Britisher must know why Britain was taken into the Common Market and whether it is in our interests to remain in or come out.

Yes, Sir. My hon. Friend and the hon. Member for Mid-Oxon (Mr. Hurd) have raised a fundamental point which will feature largely in the referendum campaign.

Will the Minister confirm that our total crude trade deficit with the Eight last year was £2,215 million and that food and live animals accounted for £1,224 million, which, by my arithmetic as opposed to the Secretary of State's, is rather more than half of the total trade figure?

May I clarify this statistical confusion? Some answers are given, depending on what the questioner wants, relating to the EEC Six while others relate to the EEC Eight. The answer that the hon. Gentleman has mentioned relates to the EEC Eight. My hon. Friend's answer related to the EEC Six.