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European Community (Council Of Agriculture Ministers)

Volume 978: debated on Thursday 14 February 1980

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


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


asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food when next he intends to meet the council of Agriculture Ministers of the EEC.


asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food when next he will meet his EEC counterparts.

At the next Council of Agriculture Ministers meeting, to be held on 18 February.

Will the right hon. Gentleman tell the EEC Ministers that Britain cannot tolerate any longer the absurdities of the CAP? In particular, will he do his utmost—I realise that there are limitations—to prevent the export to East European countries of cheap surplus Common Market produce? Will he take the first steps towards withdrawing Britain from CAP, particularly in view of recent reports that that is the right hon. Gentleman's view?

No, Sir. It is an important matter. The Commission, in making its special levy proposals on milk, has for the first time adopted a system of special national financing, in practice, for the additional surpluses. That is an important breakthrough in principle and it is a principle which I believe should be pursued further if sanity is to be introduced into the CAP. As for exports of subsidised food to the Soviet Union, certainly the British Government will vote against all such measures or proposals.

Order. I propose to call first the three hon. Members whose questions are linked with this question.

Will the Minister assure the House that the Government will maintain their traditional principle of support of the Lomé convention, and of the import and consumption of 1·25 million tonnes of ACP sugar? When he meets his EEC counterparts, will he also support the principle of the EEC joining the international sugar agreement? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that those measures will lift up the hearts and heads of 1,700 workers at the Tate and Lyle refinery in Liverpool.

In view of the intensity of feeling throughout the country about the vast amount of money that Britain pays to the Common Market, and in view of what the Prime Minister said that she would do at Dublin, is it not time for the Minister, when he meets the other EEC Ministers, to make it plain that Britain will not tolerate the fatuities that are taking place? Will he convey to them that they should do something and not allow the French, in addition to taking British money, to thumb their noses at us? Will he also convey to them that there is deep feeling in Britain that we should get out of the Common Market because of all this nonsense?

I have already conveyed to them that respect for the Community is very much undermined when other countries seem to violate the laws of the Community. The Government have made clear the general injustice of the British position in terms of money and the CAP. A grievance exists, and that must be redressed if the Community is to have any proper spirit.

Will the Minister accept that disruption to ACP producers caused by EEC sugar surpluses over the past four years is, ironically, one of the reasons for the present shortage of sugar? Will he agree that it would be wrong for our EEC partners to use the high price of sugar on the world sugar markets as the excuse for justifying a further increase in the beet sugar price?

Yes, Sir. The Commission proposes to reduce total beet production in the Community. We support that in principle. We do not support the detailed package because it discriminates unfairly against the British grower. We would support a reduction in beet production in Europe, provided that it was fairly administered.

Will my right hon. Friend give a clear and firm assurance to the House, and therefore to the taxpayers, that when he meets his counterparts he will veto any increase in prices for those commodities that are structurally in surplus?

Will my right hon. Friend give an assurance that he will do all that he can to ensure that British sugar producers get a better share of the quota than that currently proposed? Is he aware that the current proposal is 29 per cent. down on last year, whereas other EEC countries have more generous quotas?

The first proposals of the Commission were unfair to Britain. I am glad to say that there has been an improvement on that. The improvement is nowhere near good enough. Before I agree to any proposals, a further improvement will be required.

In view of the reports from Europe that it is the intention not to export any more surplus French butter to the Soviet Union, will the Minister try to find out, when he meets his counterparts, which country the British taxpayer will be expected to subsidise through the exports of the French butter surplus? Does he not think that it is now time for Britain to act unilaterally, and to refuse to subsidise any more of the French surplus?

The principle that I outlined in reply to an earlier question—that the time has come to move towards the national financing of the disposal of surpluses, instead of their being subsidised by those countries which do not produce surpluses—is a principle which we shall advocate.

Will my right hon. Friend undertake to convey to his European counterparts the bitter resentment that is felt by glasshouse producers and horticulturists about the hidden subsidies paid to Dutch growers by the Dutch Government? Will he also bear in mind that the unfair dumping of Dutch produce on the British market is causing concern to our horticulturists?

I recognise the concern among British horticulturists about the cheaper energy that is available in Holland. However, there is no evidence that the Dutch Government are providing subsidised fuel supplies to their growers. They are giving cheap supplies, but at a commercially profitable rate. We cannot accuse the Dutch of using unfair trading methods.