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Council Of Ministers

Volume 932: debated on Thursday 19 May 1977

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asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food when he next expects to attend a meeting of the EEC Council of Agriculture Ministers.

On 20th and 21st June. The Community Agriculture Ministers are, however, to have an informal meeting in London next Tuesday.

Until such time as the CAP is completely scrapped, could not some of the smart Alecs who sold us down the river in the Common Market steer some of these German butter boats up the Forth or Clyde so that some of our own impoverished housewives can get their share of this butter mountain comprising 6,000 tons of cheap butter, which has been distributed by these ships to a total of 3 million passengers?

I think that the better way of handling the matter would be to see that the butter mountain is consumed inside the nations of the Community. One very good way of doing this might be to have a butter subsidy to enable the consumer to obtain the butter at a very much cheaper price. That method of dealing with the problem would appear to be a very much better way of handling the matter than to have 3 million men and women each grasping two kilograms of butter in their hot little hands.

Is the Minister aware that Commissioner Tugendhat said that there must be a more effective way of representing the taxpayer and the consumer in the settlement of agricultural prices? Will he convey to the next meeting of Agriculture Ministers that that view has widespread support in this country, even though a dwindling band of Euro fanatics would seek to deny it?

Something on the lines of that view has already been conveyed to my colleagues in the Common Market Council of Agriculture Ministers. On the subject of Commissioner Tugendhat, there are other items of which perhaps neither the hon. Gentleman nor I would wholeheartedly approve.

When my right hon. Friend meets the Council of Ministers, will he point out the grave apprehensions of Members on all sides of the House about EEC policy, intervention and directives? Does he not agree that those of us who pointed out these misgivings before we entered the EEC were in the minority but now comprise the overwhelming majority?

I think that by now the House must be well aware of my feelings about the common agricultural policy—feelings which, I am glad to say, I share with a growing number of hon. Members throughout the House.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the aims of the CAP remain absolutely acceptable and respectable? [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] The problem is that those aims have been too widely forgotten. The right hon. Gentleman has missed many opportunities of putting matters right. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Without requiring advice from Hon. Members below the Gangway, on the Government side, I wish to ask the right hon. Gentleman how he reconciles his advocacy of a butter subsidy now with the Government's recent decision to abolish food subsidies.

One of the major purposes on the butter subsidy seeks to achieve one of the amendments of the CAP which the right hon. Gentleman asked me to undertake. I may have missed opportunities in the past. During the next seven years or so I intend not to miss any other opportunities.

As for the butter subsidy, one of its main purposes was to chip away at helping to destroy the butter mountain. There is no butter mountain in this country, nor is there a liquid milk lake or a structural surplus in this country, and the right hon. Gentleman should know that.

Will the Minister answer the question: how does he reconcile his advocacy of a continuing butter subsidy with the decision of his Cabinet colleagues to abolish food subsidies?

Perhaps I had better explain the matter twice. There is no food structural surplus in this country. The aim of the butter subsidy was to chip away at the butter mountain—[Interruption.] The hon. Member for Westmorland (Mr. Jopling) can conduct his own seminar standing up in due course, but he cannot do it sitting down. As for the butter mountain or any other structural surplus, I believe that the best way of getting rid of such surpluses is at the price end—and that is by seeing that it is consumed within the Community. I repeat that there are no structural surpluses of food in this country. Therefore, the food subsidy is not of that major immediate importance.