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Food Purchases

Volume 930: debated on Thursday 21 April 1977

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asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food whether, in view of the problems being faced by the common agricultural policy, there are any plans to buy British food from the cheapest markets of the world.

Many foods are very efficiently produced within the United Kingdom and elsewhere within the Community. We shall continue to press for a flexible operation of the common agricultural policy.

Is it not the Government's bounden duty to try to help the British housewife by buying food wherever in the world it is cheapest? Is it not also a fact that, while the Ural Mountains are reputedly covered in butter, according to the Press, we are paying hundreds of millions of pounds which we ought not to have to pay? Therefore, is it not the duty of my right hon. Friend to fight for the abolition of this ridiculous policy, which everybody in Britain can see to be ridiculous, and as a last resort—or as a first resort—to get us out of the Common Market anyway?

I am bound to say that I was aware, even before my hon. Friend told me about them, of certain structural surpluses in foodstuffs, and I noted especially that there was a rather large mountain consisting of butter, though whether in the Urals I do not know. A certain amount of it appears to have gone in that direction. I am doing my best to assist in two ways. First, I am trying to obtain a more flexible approach to importation. Indeed, from 1st April the virtual ban on the importation of beef from outside the Community was lifted. Of course, my hon. Friend will be aware that I am trying to chip away at the butter mountain of which he spoke.

If it were desirable to obtain the cheapest food in the world irrespective of the interest of the farm worker, would it not to be equally desirable to obtain the cheapest coal in the world irrespective of the interest of the coal miner and to obtain the cheapest electricity in the world irrespective of the interest of the Secretary of State for Energy?

The hon. Gentleman is noted for his wide philosophy and learning, and for his knowledge of many minerals, and so on. I was asked about food. There is no question that the overwhelming majority of our housewives want to see food as cheaply as they can get it. The hon. Gentleman will have some difficulty in explaining to his constituents that that is not what he wants.