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Food Prices

Volume 934: debated on Thursday 30 June 1977

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asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what discussions he has held with the President of the EEC Commission concerning the price of food in the United Kingdom.

I have had no discussions personally with the President of the EEC Commission.

Although I recognise, as most people do, that if there were another referendum today the result would be reversed—

and that therefore the Common Market propaganda machine, which includes most of the British Press, has to go into action to try to justify the Common Market, nevertheless will the Minister tell Mr. Roy Jenkins, when he next comes to London to make speeches such as the one he made on 10th May of this year, that he should not try to fool the British public—[Interruption.]— with selected figures trying to show that the Common Market—[Interruption.]—

I think that it is the hon. Gentleman's own fault for saying on television last night that he was not interrupted. But I ask the House to allow the hon. Member for Banbury (Mr. Marten) to put his supplementary question.

Mr. Jenkins used selective figures to try to show that the Common Market had not put up the price of food, when everyone in the country knows that it has caused a significant increase in the price of food and that there is cheaper food to be had outside the Common Market.

I do not know whether I shall have an opportunity to have rather long discussions with the President of the EEC Commission when he next comes to London—in fact, I believe that he is in London at the moment—but I do not think that it can seriously be argued in this House that the general price support levels and, therefore, the price of food in the Community are not extremely high. That was the whole purpose of the exercise of the last price review. I remember the hon. Member for Banbury (Mr. Marten) on one occasion eliciting from me that under the transitional steps the price of butter was liable to go up by 17p or 19p a pound before the end of the year. The whole basis of our attack and the getting of the butter subsidy was to try to prevent that happening. We can only keep up the pressure.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the essence of the submission by the hon. Member for Banbury (Mr. Marten) is that his hon. Friend the Member for Weston-super-Mare (Mr. Wiggin) had a dream called "Entering the Common Market" which has now turned out to be a nightmare, and that the burden of this nightmare, which has become a reality, is being borne by millions of people in rapid price increases which would have been much higher had it not been for the efforts of my right hon. Friend?

We can on the Government Benches claim a great deal of credit for the fact that the price review finally decided was the lowest since we entered the Common Market. We can also point out that the rather optimistic accounts —I put it no higher than that—given to us at the time of entering the Common Market concerning the increase in food prices have proved totally unfounded.

Does the Minister agree that the British Presidency of the Council, in contrast to that of the Commission, has gone downhill all the way since 1st January and that the same applies to the Agricultural Council? Will the right hon. Gentleman redeem it a bit by admitting that it is not the CAP that is responsible for the bulk of food price increases but other factors?

I do not agree at all with the first part of the hon. Gentleman's supplementary question, and certainly I do not agree about the Agricultural Council, where a change has taken place which, although it may not be very palatable to a number of our colleagues in Europe, is now a definite fact. I repeat what I have pointed out on a number of occasions. This was the first time that consumers were able to talk to the President of the Agricultural Council. A total sea change is taking place.

As regards the hon. Gentleman's second point, one of the basic facts that he must realise is that although it is true that since April CAP prices have not gone up much, because of our fight, they were inordinately high before.

When my right hon. Friend next meets Mr. Roy Jenkins will he draw to his attention the fact that his speech on 10th May was an attempt to whitewash the very real fact that food prices have gone up as a result of the transitional arrangements following our entry into the Common Market? Will he also point out that Mr. Roy Jenkins, contrary to what some of his friends on this side of the House say, deliberately attempted to mislead the British people in that speech about the movement of food prices?

There is one thing that must be said about Mr. Roy Jenkins. I gather that he also has taken the view that prices in the Common Market should not be allowed to rise. That means two things. The first is that he will, I hope, fight for us in our battle. The second is that he recognises that prices are too high.