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Common Agricultural Policy

Volume 928: debated on Thursday 17 March 1977

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asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food whether he has any new proposals for reform of the common agricultural policy.


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

My right hon. Friend explained to the House yesterday our general approach to the CAP and the progress of negotiations on the Commission's price proposals for 1977–78, which include changes in CAP mechanisms.

Does the Minister recall that about nine or 10 years ago Dr. Mansholt called for reform of the CAP, and that since then, because of the vested interests, very little other than tinkering with the fringes has happened? In view of the almost universal contempt in which it is now held, is it not time to scrap the CAP and start again?

Some modifications have been made since Dr. Mansholt's statement, but the hon. Gentleman is substantially correct to this extent: the CAP relies far too heavily on end prices in meeting the problems of smaller producers in Europe.

Is it not a melancholy truth that the CAP is dominated by nations other than Britain and that any attempts to achieve a reform must depend on other Governments? Since the system is highly advantageous to those other Governments, are not those attempts by my right hon. Friend liable to be frustrated?

Certainly it is the case—the EEC proposals have brought this out strongly—that the attitude of other Governments to CAP price fixing in the Community is very different from that of the United Kingdom. I hope, however, that when we finally bring home a settlement on the basis of the current proposals we shall be able to demonstrate to my hon. Friend that we can secure significant changes in the British national interest.

Surely the Government ought to be consistent in these matters. How is it that on something that they can control the Government gave a 15 per cent. or 16 per cent. increase on lamb prices and a 31 per cent. increase on wool? Is it not about time there was some honesty in these matters?

I do not think that the hon. Gentleman could have heard my reply last night. We have increased the guarantees under the traditional British system—a system that has already been commented on by my hon. Friends. By so doing, we have not affected consumer prices, which is very different from the implications of some of the proposals that we were discussing in Brussels.

Has my hon. Friend seen the latest report from the Cambridge University Departments of Applied Economics and Land Economy that the CAP is costing Britain's balance of payments £600 million a year and is raising food prices perceptibly above the level at which they would be if we were able to buy food on the open market? Is he aware that this does not allow for the recent talks on further increases in CAP prices? Can he do anything about it, or are we to have this millstone permanently around our necks?

So far I have read only The Times report on the findings of those departments. I shall read the full document with interest when it is published next week. I certainly agree that at present, even with the mcas, the United Kingdom is paying more for some food imports than it would have paid if it were not confined by the CAP.

The Parliamentary Secretary's logic is becoming more ludicrous every moment. In his reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Devon, West (Mr. Mills), why did he say that it was acceptable to have a 16 per cent. increase for lamb, because that is only a guaranteed price, when he is refusing a 3 per cent. rise across the board under the European package?

Let me try to spell it out in simple terms. Yesterday's announcement will not affect food prices one iota. The Commission's proposals, combined with the transitional steps—

Very well then, even without the transitional steps, the Commission's proposals will increase food prices in this country by around 2 per cent.