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Council Of Agriculture Ministers

Volume 958: debated on Thursday 16 November 1978

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


asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food when he expects next to meet his Common Market counterparts.


asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food when next he expects to meet EEC leaders; and if he will make a statement.

The next meeting of the Council of Agriculture Ministers will be on 20th November.

Having told the House why he thinks that other people's schemes for the reduction of structural surpluses will not work, will the Minister now tell the House what scheme Her Majesty's Government are to propose at the forthcoming meeting? Will he bear in mind that the apparently simple device of merely reducing price very often has the opposite result of increasing production?

If the hon. Gentleman will think about his remarks, I do not believe that he will agree with them. The effect of cutting the common price is to stop people from producing so much, unless there is room for considerable technological expansion. As far as I can see, there is only one country in the European Community which could do that in the dairy sector, and that is the United Kingdom. Our policy will, therefore, be to ensure that there is a freeze on common prices, particularly of products in structural surplus.

Will my right hon. Friend tell the other Common Market ministers that many of us think that the Prime Minister's speech earlier this week, criticising the common agricultural policy, was the best speech he has ever made as Prime Minister? Will my right hon. Friend ask the Common Market fanatics why, despite the fact that the world price of grain has been falling steadily over the past 18 months or so, the Common Market still keeps its wheat price at £40 per tonne more than the world price, instead of passing on the benefit by, for example, reducing the price of bread for housewives and their families?

My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister may have heard the congratulations on his speech, which was important because it laid down absolutely the basic problem facing the European Community with regard to the common agricultural policy. The creation of expensive surpluses means that all the consumers in Europe are paying far too much and are then in the position of wondering how on earth the surpluses can be disposed of.

Does the Minister fully realise the strong negotiating position that he and the rest of his colleagues have in relation to the Common Market? Its members catch our fish, they want and are succeeding in claiming our oil, we buy their manufactured goods, and now we pay the bills. The day must come when my right hon. Friend cannot merely posture at the Dispatch Box but will have to deliver. More and more people in the United Kingdom are waiting for that day.

At the moment I can only limp to the Dispatch Box. But, leaving that aside, I had the feeling that this Government had not done too badly over the past two years. Let us consider what has happened. Since we joined the Community, we have managed to get the lowest common prices in two successive years, and we shall do even better in the price fixing to come. We have maintained a correct posture—since "posture" was the word used by my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner)—on fishing policy and, I would say, also on oil. Therefore, this Government, more than any Government that I know of, has preserved British interests inside the Community.

I appreciate that the Minister uses every meeting of the Agriculture Ministers for his own attempt to become the next leader of the Labour Party, all being well, but does he not agree that the basic difference between his attitude—however reluctant—and that of the hon. Member for West Stirlingshire (Mr. Canavan) regarding the Prime Minister's speech at the beginning of this week is that the Prime Minister is anxious for this country to remain in the Community? Does not the Minister wholeheartedly support that policy?

The next leader of the Labour Party will be the present leader of the Labour Party.

We in the Labour Party choose our leaders democratically.

I have never made any pretence whatsoever about my own views on whether we should or should not have gone into the Market. That has been absolutely clear. But I am certain that this time there is a united Government—united in their attitude to what has to be done. We have stated that clearly and we are doing it.

Has not my right hon. Friend become convinced, as a result of his negotiations in Brussels, that those member countries that have their snouts deep into what his Minister of State earlier called "the EEC trough" will resist and go on resisting any meaningful reform of the CAP unless and until we are prepared to tell them that, if there is no reasonable progress in that direction within a reasonable time, we shall have to rethink the question of our membership?

My hon. Friend knows that we have managed to make significant progress already in the past two years. In my view, we will make even more significant progress in the next year. As he will recall, the basis on which we work is a strategy of four years. I believe that we can do it in that four-year period.