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Common Agricultural Policy

Volume 886: debated on Thursday 20 February 1975

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8.

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will make a statement on renegotiation of the common agricultural policy.

31.

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what is the latest position in relation to the renegotiations with the EEC on the common agricultural policy.

38.

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will make a statement on what progress he has made on each of his aims in the Common Market negotiations.

The changes I wish to see in the operation of the CAP and certain related fields are set out fully in my statement to the Council of Agriculture Ministers on 18th June last year. It would be premature for me now to make any general assessment of what has been achieved, but progress on a number of issues has been made in the course of negotiations about which the House has been regularly informed. In particular we have reached a satisfactory settlement on sugar under Protocol 22, providing long-term guarantees of access on extremely fair terms for the developing countries of the Commonwealth. And, as I explained last Monday, we have secured fundamental changes in the beef régime, which enable this country, or any other member State, to operate deficiency payment arrangements, which will provide a guarantee to producers without taking excessive quantities of meat into intervention cold stores.

I accept that certain arrangements have been made, but will the Minister say what major changes in the common agricultural policy have been agreed, so that the CAP ceases to be a threat to world trade in food products, and so that low-cost products from outside Europe can continue to have access to the British food market in accordance with the Labour Party manifesto?

I made a series of proposals. One which was accepted concerned basing the criteria for prices on efficient farms and the supply and demand situation. That was a step forward in agriculture. Protocol 22 gave a good deal to the developing countries. That agreement compares favourably with the old Commonwealth Sugar Agreement. I have also achieved a new beef régime, which enables a deficiency payments system to operate.

It is not for just one year. I have already answered that point. It is not a temporary thing. It is a major change in the system, which I should have thought hon. Members would welcome.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that all hon. Members on the Government benches, whether pro- or anti-Market, agree that there must be fundamental changes in the common agricultural policy, and that we are all gratified that he is making considerable progress towards that end? If, in the event, the Government recommend that we stay in the EEC, in view of the considerable progress that has been made, will he join in the recommendation?

That supplementary question goes further than the Question that I have been asked to answer. My hon. Friend should wait and see.

In renegotiating the terms of the common agricultural policy will the Minister turn his attention to three points—first, that it is unacceptable that the French should unload eggs on the British market, undercutting our egg industry, when they refuse to take our exports; secondly, that the European pig herd is likely to reach a peak later this year and that it is important, therefore, to ensure that our pig herd expands next year; and, thirdly, that most continental milk is produced for manufacture whereas ours is produced for liquid consumption? Will he ensure that the regulations and directives that come from the European Economic Community have regard to those points?

A Commission document specifically relating to milk is to be debated tonight. I am well aware of the regulations. I accept that we must watch and scrutinise them very carefully.

I want our pig herd to increase and the farmer to have sensible and reasonable prices.

I am having talks about eggs and hope to speak to the French on the matter.

I appreciate that my right hon. Friend has been able to twist the arm of the Common Market authorities more than his predecessor was able to do. However, does he agree that as Britain cannot produce the whole of the food that she needs—in fact, only about half—and as the common agricultural policy is designed to protect countries which produce almost all their own food, it is an utter failure for this country, and the sooner he negotiates to abolish and replace it with something better, the better it will be for this country as a whole?

My hon. Friend knows only too well that the Labour Party's policy and decision were and are to seek the renegotiation of the terms of entry. I have done that honourably. I suspect that some people were hoping that I would fail. I would rather succeed and help our farmers, because in the end we should encourage more production in this country.

Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that the Government's renegotiation objective of obtaining open access to the British market for low-cost producers throughout the world—

That is as may be—is not restricted to under-developed or Commonwealth countries, but is wholly general?

My aim throughout the working business of the Community has been to seek to liberalise the CAP. For example, I have defended access for meat supplies from Botswana and Swaziland. I believe that we should try to get permanent access for New Zealand. I met the New Zealand Prime Minister this week and we discussed what we were going for at the summit. [Interruption.] If it is welcome, why not say so.

Does my right hon. Friend realise that many of his right hon. and hon. Friends wish to congratulate him on the success of his negotiations so far, which have brought great benefit to our constituents, whether producers or consumers, and to the Commonwealth?

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend the Member for Kettering (Sir G. de Freitas) for some help.

I welcome the right hon. Gentleman's belated recognition of the fact that the CAP is flexible. May I ask him, first, whether his target price for beef, of £22 to £23, is realistic in the face of rising costs which producers have to pay and, secondly, whether he will be more specific about eggs? The Minister said that he was going to talk to the French. This has been a critical situation for several weeks. It is extremely urgent. Will the right hon. Gentleman undertake to make a statement to the House next week, at the latest, so that the position can be rectified?

I am aware of the problems in the egg industry. We have met the Eggs Authority. I am trying to achieve something, but it will take a little time.

I believe that what I have negotiated regarding beef prices is reasonable in the circumstances.

16.

asked the Secretary of State for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what was the cost to public funds of the operation of the CAP in 1974; and how this compares with the cost of its full application.

Excluding the United Kingdom's contribution to Community funds in respect of the CAP, the net cost to the Exchequer in 1974 was £70·9 million. The cost at the end of the transitional period would depend on factors which cannot be predicted reliably.

Can the right hon. Gentleman give us an idea of the savings to the public in food costs as a result of the partial operation of the CAP and also, compared with that, the cost of the additional measures that he has had to introduce because the CAP is not yet in full operation?

I cannot quantify the figures, but I shall look at this and write to the hon. Gentleman.

May I ask the right hon. Gentleman about one aspect of the CAP? Will he inform the House what progress has been made in securing a regulation to govern sheep meat which will ensure that producers of lamb and mutton can at all times sell their produce in France?

As the hon. Gentleman knows, there is no sheep meat régime in the Community. France and Ireland would like to have one, but there has been no progress towards it.