Skip to main content

Food Prices

Volume 928: debated on Thursday 17 March 1977

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.


asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what are the latest figures available for the effect of Common Market membership on the price of food in Great Britain; and if he will make a statement.

I refer my hon. Friend to the reply given to the hon. Member for Faversham (Mr. Moate) on 28th January 1977.

Does my right hon. Friend now agree, however, that the cost of our Common Market membership, in terms of food prices, is appalling? Will he not make it quite clear to our partners in the Common Market that our continued membership depends upon a drastic revision of the Common Market's agricultural and food policies?

It is no secret that I have for some time thought that the cost of our food would increase once we were in the Common Market. That I believe to be the case. I think that the retail food index has risen by 108 per cent. during our time of membership of the Common Market, to December 1976. How much of that rise is actually due to membership of the Common Market and how much is due to other factors is a little difficult to say. However, concerning the CAP and the present price review, Her Majesty's Government have made the position totally plain.

Does not membership of the Common Market affect the price of food in all parts of the United Kingdom and does not the figure that the right hon. Gentleman has just quoted apply to the United Kingdom and not just to Great Britain?

The right hon. Gentleman is entirely right in that. It is, of course, perfectly true that they affect the United Kingdom as such. If we are really being pedantic about this matter, perhaps I should add that horticulture is in a rather special situation.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the EEC Commission proposal for the exclusive use of dairy fats in the making of ice cream in the United Kingdom will, if carried out, surely cause a massive price increase and, what is even more serious, will probably create considerable unemployment in the industry?

I am aware of the difficulties about this matter. What I have said is that if the Commission's proposals mean merely that we are to have proper labelling, I do not think that any hon. Member could justifiably complain. What I think we can complain about is if measures are introduced under the guise of correct labelling which are in fact restrictive and contrary to most of the ways in which this country has been doing things.

How does the Minister see the price, to the housewife, of bacon and pork over the next two years or so, in view of the catastrophic fall in numbers of pigs subsequent to the drop in prices? Does he appreciate that the help that he gave earlier this year has been quite inadequate and that the pig industry is facing very serious problems?

It would be a little unfair to the three other hon. Members who have Questions on the Order Paper on this subject if I were to answer that question now. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will be a little patient.

Did my right hon. Friend notice that at the close of last night's debate the Opposition Front Bench committed the Tory Opposition to accepting the whole of the Commission's present price package, acceptance of which would lead to a further increase of nearly 15 per cent. in food prices in this country and carry the total balance of payments costs to about £900 million?

It was rather late at night, but I was a little surprised this afternoon when I saw the hon. Member for Derbyshire, West (Mr. Scott-Hopkins) nodding his head in agreement when I was talking about the exclusive milk feature and when he was agreeing with me about other disadvantages in the milk package. The milk package is an essential part of the whole package, as well as the prices.

Does the Minister agree that there are advantages in the milk package as well, and that if 1 ½ million cows are taken out of production in Europe it would be a great advantage to the level of production? Does he further agree that part of the reason for the rise in the cost of food is not the CAP but the inflationary measures that the present Government have introduced?

I do not agree with very much of that. It is for the hon. Gentleman, on a suitable occasion, to tell the House why he attacks individual parts of the milk package but nevertheless wants us to accept the lot.