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Food Prices

Volume 930: debated on Thursday 21 April 1977

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8.

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 the United Kingdom; and if he will make a statement.

24.

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what is his estimate of the extra cost the United Kingdom incurred as a result of buying imported food from the EEC as against outside sources in 1976.

The Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food
(Mr. E. S. Bishop)

Between February 1973 and March 1977 the index of retail food prices increased by about 120 per cent. I regret that we cannot assess the contribution to this increase arising from our membership of the European Community because of the difficulty of predicting how food prices would have changed had we remained outside.

Does my hon. Friend accept that the contribution of the Common Market is still considerable? Will he pass on to his right hon. Friend the congratulations of the great majority of British housewives on the resistance he has shown so far to Common Market pricing policy? Will he ask his right hon. Friend to commit himself before the House to continuing to resist the CAP pricing policies, irrespective of any blackmail from our so-called partners in the Community or from the powerful farmers' lobby?

Clearly, my hon. Friend recognises the changes that we are trying to bring about in the CAP. I think the House will agree that we should seek a "cap" which fits my right hon. Friend and those whom he represents, and that we should not wear a cap which fits the Community but makes the United Kingdom look ridiculous. That would be the peak of foolishness.

Is my hon. Friend aware that the latest edition of the Cambridge Economic Policy Review gave a detailed analysis of the cost of the common agricultural policy to Britain? Is he further aware that it showed clearly that, far from there being any kind of subsidy, including the effects of the green pound it was costing Britain at least £600 million a year, and that if the demand of the Tories concerning the green pound were accepted it would rise to between £900 million and £1,000 million a year?

Is my hon. Friend also aware of the recent article in The Guardian which made clear that, because we are prevented from buying food from the cheapest quarter, membership of the Community is costing Britain £700 million a year? Will he also agree that the suggestion from the previous Prime Minister that we were renegotiating this farcical policy was an absolute sham?

I think that the reception given by the House to my right hon. Friend's reply indicates that there is a great deal of support for the policy he is pursuing in the Community. Of course my hon. Friend is right, in so far as he is talking about the increased costs this year. The transitional steps will add considerably to the cost of living, and I think it justifies the very firm stand that we are taking in the Community to offset these costs.

To help his hon. Friends behind him, and, indeed, housewives, would the Minister like to say by how much accession to the Common Market has increased the prices of coffee and tea?

If the hon. Member had listened to my original reply, he would have heard me say that it is very difficult to say to what extent the increases are due to the Common Market and other factors. There are, of course, some increases due to factors outside the Community, such as the increase in coffee prices and, of course, last year's shortage of potatoes. We know, however, of certain increases which are due to Common Market membership, and we are right to ask the Community to take this into account.

Is my hon. Friend aware that the housewives of Grimsby as shown by recent doorstep interviews, are vey much aware that the Common Market contributes greatly towards the high cost of food? The housewives are also aware of the wastefulness of the surpluses that the CAP produces. Would he, therefore, ask his right hon. Friend to recommend to the whole Government at the next Cabinet meeting that we withdraw from the Common Market?

Subject to our having that kind of freedom, I think that we are pursuing the right policy at the present time in seeking to make the necessary changes to help the housewife as well as the producer. I am quite sure that the housewives and other people of Grimsby, who were interested not only in fish but also in food, will admire the strong efforts made in that direction.