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Surplus Products (European Community)

Volume 928: debated on Thursday 17 March 1977

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asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will guarantee that future EEC food surpluses will be used for the benefit of member countries.


asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will make a statement concerning the disposal of structurally surplus agricultural products arising within the EEC.

It is our policy that an end is brought to structural surpluses and, where they exist at present, priority is given wherever feasible to Community consumers in their disposal. Structural surpluses will be removed only by keeping producers' prices at realistic levels.

Does my right hon. Friend recall that when the Euro-fanatics on both sides of the House were dragging us into the Common Market they said it would assist in helping Third World countries, that it would help in standing up to the Eastern bloc and that it would, through economies of scale, improve Britain's standard of living generally? Will he explain how selling butter to Russia and other countries fits in with those criteria? It sounds like double-Dutch to me.

First, we agree with my hon. Friend about the need to ensure that surpluses are dealt with in the proper way. The best way to deal with them is to prevent them by the common price restraint system that has been advocated in the Community by my right hon. Friend. As some of the prices in the Market are above those in third countries, it means that when commodities that are in surplus are sold outside the Community, to third countries, there has to be some adjustment to make them competitive. That is another reason why we should ensure that the changes that come about in respect of surpluses are not to our disadvantage.

Will the hon. Gentleman explain why it was not possible to sell off the butter mountain cheap in this country to old-age pensioners, for instance, rather than to sell it cheap to Russia?

Briefly, the answer is that my right hon. Friend has made various suggestions to the Community about the disposal of butter and other surplus supplies. Among other suggestions, he mentioned the need for helping our schools. The fact is that there are bound to be supplies that have to be in surplus and sold outside—[Interruption.]—and up to now that has been the Community's policy. However, the Commission has decided to modify its system by granting export licences for butter. The intention in future is to ensure that no further advance fixings or refunds are authorised for exports of butter to Eastern Europe. I emphasise the need to prevent surpluses in the first place and to ensure that when they arise they are used as far as possible for the benefit of Community consumers.

Does my hon. Friend agree that having nearly drowned in a lake of wine the poor CAP is now sliding into absurdity down the slippery slopes of a mountain of butter? In spite of the Damascus mood of the Conservative Party, does my hon. Friend agree that the real task is not merely a matter of disposal but to put an end to the creation of surpluses? Is my hon. Friend aware that there will be no final solution if he and his right hon. Friend do not continue to fight in Brussels to ensure the standstill of intervention prices?

After the statement of the hon. Member for Derbyshire, West (Mr. Scott-Hopkins) last night, that we should accept the entire Community package, it was obvious from yesterday's debate that there was no surplus of ideas or policies to set against the policies that we are putting forward. There were peaks of platitudes and lakes of loquacity, but nothing was put forward as a real alternative.