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Agriculture, Fisheries And Food

Volume 986: debated on Thursday 19 June 1980

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Fishing Industry

1.

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what plans he has to ensure the viability of the fishing industry while a common fisheries policy is being negotiated.

The Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food
(Mr. Alick Buchanan-Smith)

With other Fisheries Ministers, my right hon. Friend has arranged to meet representatives of the industry on 3 July to examine the position in the industry.

Even though my hon. Friend is unable to impose a unilateral ban on the import of fish, does he recognise that there will have to be a substantial reduction in the concessions on import tariffs on white fish from third countries? Otherwise such places as Arbroath and elsewhere on the East Coast of Scotland will not have a viable fish industry once the common fisheries policy has been renegotiated.

That is precisely why we have pressed the Commission to review the reference prices, which it has done. We are now considering the restoration of certain reductions in tariffs. Full information will be available by the time that we meet the industry at the beginning of July.

Because more vessels have been laid up during the period since the Government's temporary aid scheme began, is it not time that the Minister stopped dangling before the fishing industry the prospect of "Eurocash" and gave immediate aid on the same scale as that received by our Continental competitors?

I think that the hon. Gentleman has recognised that we, too, give aid to our industry. Whatever he may say, the industry has expressed satisfaction, and is glad to be able to meet us at the beginning of July to discuss the matter further.

During the interim period before that meeting will my hon. Friend bear in mind the position of the British inshore fishing industry, over which the Government have control? Will he also bear in mind that the industry needs protection—not necessarily financial protection—from incursions from other parts of Britain into the South-West mackerel stock?

As my hon. Friend knows, we are very much aware of the problems, especially in relation to the South-West mackerel stock. I visited the area last year. We shall do all that we can help the industry on the licensing arrangement that has been under discussion.

As there will be discussions on 3 July to reflect the extra period for negotiations on the fishing agreement, will the Minister bear in mind the unique problems of Hull—not only its wish to retain its industry, but its need for landing facilities? Is the Minister aware that the British Transport Docks Board has agreed to close the port by the end of this month? Will he take steps to ensure that we at least keep a fish landing facility in the port of Hull during negotiations?

The purpose of the meeting on 3 July does not relate to the common fisheries policy, but is specifically about the financial state of the industry.

Does my hon. Friend accept that, in spite of some recent firming up of the market, cheap foreign imports are still contributing massively to the problems of the British fishing industry? Will he tell the House about the latest assurances that he has received from our EEC partners to the effect that they are at last doing something to crack down harder on illegal fishing by their fishermen?

The French are currently taking a number of cases through their courts, and at the same time they are increasing their fisheries protection effort. We shall continue to apply our measures, without any discrimination, against any country that sends boats to our waters.

Is not the Minister aware that his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, when he made his statement on financial aid on 13 March, said :

"the Government consider it important to retain a viable fishing industry until such time as we agree on a common fishing policy."—[Official Report, 13 March 1980; Vol 980, c. 1582.]
Since that time, the position in the industry has worsened considerably. Cheap fish imports continue to flood into Britain, and if a settlement on the CFP is not reached until January 1981 the parlous position in the fishing industry will become a total disaster. Why cannot the hon. Gentleman tell the House today—because every week is important—what he intends to do, and what financial aid he is prepared to give?

I am not unaware of the present anxiety in the fishing industry. The aid to be provided to the industry is precisely the figure which was suggested from the right hon. Gentleman's Front Bench during our debate on this matter earlier this year. The industry has agreed with us to prepare its case. We asked it several weeks ago for the figures regarding the current situation. It agreed to meet us at the beginning of July and it has agreed to provide us with figures before the end of this month. It that does not show action, I do not know what does.

Am I to take it from what the hon. Gentleman has said, and in co-operation with the industry, that further financial aid will be forthcoming to the industry on 3 July?

What I said, and what I make absolutely clear, is that, as the right hon. Gentleman must know in a case such as this, one has first to know the precise circumstances of the industry. One of the things which the industry is doing is providing us with that financial case. Until now, it has not done so. I do not blame the industry for that. The timetable that we have given to the industry has been accepted by the industry, and the industry has shown that it is willing to co-operate with us in it. Obviously, in view of what the right hon. Gentleman is saying, it will be to its great detriment if it tries to co-operate with the Opposition.

European Community (Milk Surplus)

2.

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what proposals, other than that of a price freeze, he has put forward to the Council of Ministers to reduce the milk surplus in the European Economic Community.

I am prepared to consider any measures to reduce the surplus on a Community basis and have put forward a number of proposals, including retention of the United Kingdom butter subsidy and placing greater responsibility for the disposal of surpluses upon those who create them.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that I am most disappointed with his reply, because he has not answered my question at all? I asked him what proposals he had put forward. May I ask him to study the Howell report of 1979 to the European Parliament? Will he ignore the principal recommendations of the report and instead study the minority report? If he studies the minority report of the Howell report he will have the answer to the milk surplus problem.

I have looked at the reports of both Howell Major and Howell Minor. I find them very interesting reading. The whole of Europe is talking about nothing else.

I find some contradiction in the Minister's reply to the question. He talks about solving the problem of the surplus in relation to the Community, and then talks about the countries which are responsible bearing the burden. That seems to be a contradiction in terms. Does he agree with me that if we freeze prices we shall only encourage the producers to increase production, and in any case, because of the technical developments in the industry, is not there likely, inevitably, to be an increase?

Yes. The point that the hon. Lady has made is very important. One of the great problems in terms of milk has been that when one has put a light freeze on prices, it has increased production, not decreased it. The hon. Lady is perfectly right about that? I mink that the most important thing that has happened in recent weeks is that a number of countries, particularly Germany and France, which have created a great deal of the surpluses concerned are now, for the first time, having to bear a great deal of the bill. It seems that they are taking a much greater interest in the problems of surpluses than before.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the doorstep delivery in the United Kingdom is not only a vital social service but also a maximum contribution to minimising any milk surplus to the EEC? What, therefore, will he do in about two years' time on the expiry of the health regulations under which we can prevent bulk imports of milk from, say, France, which undoubtedly, if it happens, will very quickly destroy the doorstep delivery here?

I believe that if the French have to abide by the health standards that we apply here, with the transport cost involved and the higher efficiency of our dairy industry as compared with theirs, there should be no fear of such imports.

As Britain contributes nothing to the European milk surplus, does the Minister agree that the best way of dealing with it is to lay at the door of the French, the Germans and the rest, the cost of the disposal of their surplus?

Yes, Sir. That is why I was interested in the Commission's proposal—a unique proposal this year—that those individual nations that add to the surplus should meet the cost. But another way of doing that is a rearrangement of the budget, whereby Germany and France for example will bear much more of the cost.

Amble Harbour

3.

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food why he has taken the view that a grant should not be paid for improvement to Amble harbour until improvements have also been carried out to the Amble North Pier breakwater.

I refer the hon. Member to the explanation I have already provided in the answers given him on 28 January and 13 March last. I understand that the Department of the Environment is still awaiting plans from Alnwick district council to improve the north pier breakwater.

Since all the bodies concerned are agreed that both projects must go ahead, is it sensible to allow the harbour to deteriorate while we wait for the Ministry of Defence to decide whether it is prepared to contribute? If the hon. Gentleman were wounded in two places, would he be content to lie there and listen to two doctors arguing about which one should start the treatment first?

What the hon. Gentleman must realise, equally, is that the initiative on this matter must come from Alnwick district council. As soon as we have that initiative from the council, I assure the hon. Gentleman, having visited the harbour and seen the enthusiasm of those concerned with it, that I hope that we can deal with the matter expeditiously. But someone has to raise the knife first.

Common Agricultural Policy

4.

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what problems he envisages arising for the common agricultural policy from the accession to Community membership of Greece in 1981 and Portugal and Spain in 1982–83.

The accession of Spain and Portugal will add to the problems and the costs of the régimes for the main Mediterranean crops. These countries will, however, provide market opportunities for temperate products of which they are net importers.

Does my right hon. Friend agree, however, that the fundamental difficulties go rather deeper than that? Are not the Government banking, perhaps, on the view that the problems caused by Spain's accession to the Community, and particularly to the CAP, will be so great and the financial demands of Spain so large, that that will cause the French to agree to the fundamental reform of the CAP for which we have pressed for so long?

No, Sir. It is true that the French agricultural economy will be more affected by the accession of Spain than our own. It will provide our own agricultural economy with quite considerable opportunities. But I hope that the French Government, as well as all Governments in the Community, will recognise the immense political importance as well as the long-term economic importance of welcoming these countries to the EEC.

Surely the right hon. Gentleman will not brush aside the problems that are bound to arise? After all, when the application was made, the Commissioners made it quite clear that there were immense problems. This ought to be the opportunity to get down to renegotiating the CAP. Is that being done, and, if not, why not?

I agree with the hon. Gentleman that obviously substantial new additions to the agricultural economy of Europe provide a further opportunity for having a look at the CAP. There are two other opportunities. One arises from the fact that the new readjustment of the budget is making Germany and France much more interested in the future of the CAP and its reform. The second is that the 1 per cent. VAT ceiling, which is fast approaching, will impose a further discipline and bring a new urgency to reforming the CAP.

Surely the Minister realises that, while we welcome these new countries into the Community, this will create immense problems. If the Minister considers the fact that there is a dairy system stretching from Denmark to Gibraltar and bears in mind all the farm improvement schemes that are needed in Spain and Greece, he will appreciate that it is an immense problem. Is not this the opportunity to get the necessary changes that are required in the CAP?

Yes, Sir. I welcome the fact that this added factor will give an impetus to the reform of the CAP. It creates, more for other economies than for our own, considerable problems. It also creates considerable opportunities.

Does the Minister accept that, while the entry of Spain, in particular, will create special problems for our horticultural producers and the French, those are problems which represent a challenge to the Community, and that it would be quite wrong for the British Government to go down the road of the French and suggest that Spanish entry should be delayed as a consequence of these problems?

I agree with the hon. Gentleman. In terms of Greece, Spain and Portugal, I think that the history of Europe will show that it is very important to join these countries in membership as quickly as possible.

Marginal Land Areas

5.

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food in which areas of the country the survey on marginal land areas has not yet been completed ; and if he will make a statement.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and ]]]]HS_COL-1753]]]] Food
(Mr. Jerry Wiggin)

Survey work is complete so far only for the areas in Northern Ireland. It is still under way in Scotland. Further progress for England and Wales depends on various factors including the present pilot study.

Is my hon. Friend aware that marginal land farmers are becoming impatient about the delay in designating marginal land? When does he expect the review to be completed?

The previous Government announced the start of the review, but they provided no resources for carrying it out. Until the capital grants are changed there will be no resources available in my Department. That is why we are carrying out the pilot study now, and I hope to have a report on that shortly.

Is it not crucial to have a proper land development policy for Britain, including the aspect of capital grants? In view of the developing squeeze in world food resources that is likely during the remainder of the century, is it not crazy that we are not developing and expanding grass policies for our livestock?

We are carrying out studies with a view to identifying that sort of land.

When will the Minister inject some practical urgency into the problem, particuarly in England and Wales. Is the reluctance due to his Department, or to the fear that the Treasury will not be forthcoming with the necessary funds in due course?

The hon. Gentleman must appreciate that we have to satisfy certain criteria for the Community to make the necessary contribution. In order to establish that properly we have to make out a full case. I have explained on many occasions to the House that that information is not easily obtained. That is why we have started a review, and are doing something about the problem.

Does not the Minister agree that it would help marginal farmers if they received an increase in the hill livestock compensatory allowance? Can he give the up-to-date position, bringing in line the FEOGA contributions with the United Kingdom allowance, to the same extent as in the Mezzo Giorno and in the western part of Ireland?

This Government have already made the largest single increase in the less favoured areas allowances. The matter will be reviewed again in the autumn in consultation with the unions. I do not think that the hon. Gentleman can ask for more.

New Zealand Lamb

6.

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what is his estimate of the reduction in imports to the United Kingdom of New Zealand lamb which will result from the new European Economic Community sheep-meat régime.

The Community arrangements for sheepmeat recently agreed by the Council of Agricultural Ministers will not impose any reduction in our imports of lamb from New Zealand.

While I thank the Minister for his reply, may I ask him to inform the House why we need a sheepmeat régime? Is it merely to benefit the French fanners, and will it mean that the unfortunate British housewife will again foot the bill, with increased prices for lamb and mutton?

I know that the hon. Gentleman will be delighted to learn that the sheepmeat régime that has been agreed will be beneficial both to housewives and to British producers, and of no harm to New Zealand.

Does my right hon. Friend recognise that the farmers in Scotland have strong family and historical ties with the farmers of New Zealand? Does he realise that we look to this Government, and to successive Governments, to ensure that those strong ties with New Zealand are continued, and that the New Zealand economy is always considered seriously in respect of sheepmeat?

I agree with that, and that is why we negotiated the régime on this basis. There was complete freedom, and the New Zealand Government had a power of veto. My Department and the Government are helping the New Zealanders in every way possible in the negotiations.

Will the Secretary of State tell the House when the new sheepmeat regulations will be implemented?

I am pleased to inform the hon. Gentleman that there was a suggestion for the proposals to be put forward in two regulations, but the second regulation would have had to be returned to the European Parliament. We agreed on one regulation, so that, once the third country agreements are made, there is nothing to stop the régime from coming into operation quickly.

Will the right hon. Gentleman indicate to the House what proposals Mr. Gundelach is taking to New Zealand with a view to encouraging that country to accept the sheepmeat régime? If, in the end, the New Zealanders do not like the proposals, and are not prepared to curb or restrain their sheepmeat imports to Britain, will he, too, be prepared to veto the new sheepmeat régime as at present proposed?

There is no question of the new sheepmeat régime being vetoed because it will not come into operation unless a satisfactory agreement has been reached with New Zealand. As always, we shall back the New Zealand Government on this matter.

Mr. Gundelach is not going to New Zealand with a single purpose. He is going there to negotiate with the New Zealand Government, and he will then report back to the Council of Ministers on the arrangements that he considers he can agree. He is not going to New Zealand with any mandate.

Apple Industry

7.

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will take further steps to prevent the decline of the British apple industry.

I am aware of the difficulties which apple growers have encountered in recent seasons, but there are encouraging signs that the industry is facing up to its problems. My hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary gave the House a full account of the part the Government would play in his reply to the motion for the Adjournment on 20 March.

Does not the Minister have a greater responsibility to protect the British apple industry from subsidised French imports, which are neither golden nor delicious? They are plastic and tasteless.

I have no objection to that description of the product concerned. I share the hon. Gentleman's view about the superior quality of the British apple. With regard to subsidy, it is true that some years ago there was an immense capital investment by the French Government, from which the industry has benefited. In terms of current assistance and help, there is no evidence, in respect of the volume of apples, that there is any greater assistance in France than in Britain. I hope that the reorganisation of the Apple and Pear Development Council, and the appointment of a new chairman, will mean that British apples will get a better share of the market in the coming year.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the apple producers of Herefordshire are concerned about the future, especially in view of Spain's proposed accession to the Community? Will he maintain the closest possible contact with the industry so that when we are faced with the extraordinary competition we shall be in the best possible shape to meet it?

Yes, Sir, and the quality of apples that we can produce gives us good opportunities. The reorganisation of the Apple and Pear Development Council and the appointment of a new chairman will prove to be valuable to the industry.

Does the Minister accept that my constituents, who grow more apples than are grown in Wandsworth and Battersea, South are mainly concerned about the unfair competition from France? They would like to know why the French take unilateral action, and we never do.

First, may I point out to the hon. Gentleman that the apples that his constituents grow are eaten in Wandsworth and Battersea, South? With regard to French unilateral action, there has not, of course, been any action by the French in this sphere. We are in an equal position with regard to subsidies to the industry. With proper marketing, and with the encouragement of the reformed Apple and Pear Development Council, we can start to get back a bigger share of the market.

While I welcome what my right hon. Friend has done to improve marketing and to reorganise the Apple and Pear Development Council, does he recognise that even some of the most efficient orchards, for example, that run by Lord Rothschild in my constituency, are having to go out of business because they are unable to compete? Will my right hon. Friend put his mind to the problem that many of the French imports are not grade A fruits, and that it might be sensible to back companies such as Sainsbury and others, which are refusing to take the second grade French apples which often cause the problem?

That is a decision for the companies concerned. But it should be the decision of the British apple industry to provide to our major retailers the grade of apple that they require. If it can do that, it will probably have a good year.

Pig Breeding Herd

8.

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what is the level of the pig breeding herd compared with a year ago.

In April 1980, the most recent date for which census results are available, the number of sows and gilts in pig in the United Kingdom was 809,000 head. Figures for April 1979 are not available, but in June 1979 the total was 847,000 head.

Does not my hon. Friend agree that his answer underlines the need to restore confidence in this depressed sector of the farming industry? In particular, does he agree that one of the major current problems is the high dock charges imposed on otherwise cheap feeding stuffs that are imported into Britain such as manioc? If that problem could be overcome, the industry would be able to get back on its feet more quickly.

I was not aware of particularly large quantities of manioc being imported into the United Kingdom. It has caused certain problems in other countries. But, over the past year, and particularly through three devaluations of the green pound, the pig sector has benefited more than any other sector of agriculture. Nevertheless, I acknowledge that this is an area with considerable problems and we shall watch it carefully.

Will the Minister agree that these problems are much greater than those faced by the industries in the EEC with which the British industry is expected to compete? In those circumstances, does he intend to take any further action to help the pig industry if it remains in difficulties? Is there any point at which he would consider that intervention was necessary?

I remind the hon. Member that in March last year subsidies obtained by other European producers for sending bacon to this country were running at £231 a tonne. During the period of the last Government they reached a peak of £318 a tonne. As a result of this Government's action our industry is now prepared to compete on even terms and today there is a positive MCA which helps our industry.

Agricultural Land Tenancies

9.

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he has yet received the views of the National Farmers Union regarding agricultural land tenancies.

Does my hon. Friend agree that one of the conditions necessary to give landlords the confidence to relet agricultural land must be the prospect of their being able to regain possession of it some time in the future? Is not anyone who argues to the contrary guilty of wishful thinking?

I certainly accept that that is one of the many factors in this complicated matter.

Will the Minister inform his hon. Friend the Member for Morecambe and Lonsdale (Mr. Lennox-Boyd) that there is an appeal arrangement available at present? Does he agree that any change in the existing arrangements will be bitterly resented by thousands of tenant farmers who will conclude that the Conservative Party is far more concerned with those who own than with those who contribute?

The hon. Member is jumping to a number of assumptions. The Government have no plans to make any changes until such time as the industry comes to an agreement. At the moment there does not seem much evidence of that being likely.

Will my hon. Friend not give as excuse for doing nothing about this matter the fact that the Country Landowners Association and the NFU have failed to agree?

It is not an excuse for doing nothing. If a law is passed that is unsatisfactory, either the landlords' section or the tenants' section will not use it. Therefore, there is no point in proceeding unless we have that agreement.

Will the Minister accept that the increased security of tenure given by the Labour Government to families of farmworkers and tenant farmers was a long overdue measure of social justice? Does he realise that whatever deal is struck by the NFU and the CLA, the Labour Party will oppose any undermining of that security?

The hon. Member knows that what he is saying is, to a large extent, condemning the system of landlord and tenant, as we know it, to extinction.

School Milk

10.

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what progress he has made in discussions with the European Economic Community regarding obtaining a contribution towards the cost of school milk.

I am continuing my discussions with the Commission and hope that they will be completed shortly.

Will the Minister agree that the fact that all this milk is flowing around Europe when our children are being denied school milk makes this a matter for urgent consideration? If the Minister is successful in his negotiations will he consider extending the availability of milk to all children in school?

If I am successful in my negotiations education authorities will have the opportunity to make decisions with considerable aid from Europe. I had further talks in Luxembourg this week on this matter and I hope that the talks will be completed shortly.

If the provision of free school milk is to continue, will my right hon. Friend use his good offices to ensure that it is rendered rather more attractive? Will he ensure that the provision of some refrigeration plant is insisted upon, and that the dairies consider providing flavoured milk?

Will the Minister accept that recent Tory legislation in education, giving discretion to local authorities on school meals, means that the nutritional value of school meals is rapidly declining and that the take-up of free school meals is also declining? If the right hon. Gentleman can obtain assistance from the EEC towards free school milk does he agree that it will be something in exchange for the massive payments that we make?

White Fish Authority And Herring Industry Board

11.

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he is yet able to make a statement on the future of the White Fish Authority and the Herring Industry Board.

The Government have issued this week a consultative document about the structure and functions of a statutory authority to replace the existing authority and board. Copies of the document have been placed in the Library of the House and are available in the Vote Office.

Will my hon. Friend confirm that in any restructuring of the board, better representation will be given to those who go to sea to fish? Will he also ensure more sharply defined terms of reference so that there will not be unnecessary duplication with existing scientific institutions and Government Departments?

All these matters are highly relevant and many are contained in the consultative document. I shall consider very carefully all the representations that are made.

Has the Minister noticed a statement reported in The Times today, from a French Minister, that France will hold up the Prime Minister's EEC budget settlement until a fisheries agreement that is satisfactory to France has been concluded?

I attended the meeting of the Fisheries Council and the Agriculture Council this week. We had constructive discussions. The French Minister was present when these matters were discussed and he never once raised that question, either in the Council or outside, in discussions with us.

Can my hon. Friend give an assurance that the new authority that is to be set up will not be faced with a situation in which British fishermen are subsidising overseas fish consultancies by the White Fish Authority?

Whether this takes place at all is a matter of subjective judgment. I commend some of the work of the White Fish Authority in its consultancy work abroad, but I agree with my hon. Friend that such work should be financed by those sources that benefit from it and not from within our own industry.

Is the Minister saying that the mutterings of the French Fisheries Minister in the corridors of Luxembourg were meaningless and signified nothing? If that is so, will he go beyond that and say that we have given nothing away at all and that we will give nothing away at all right up to the end of the calendar year? Will he stand by the fishing industry?

The Government make it absolutely clear that the common fisheries policy must be settled on its merits. That was the position after Brussels and it is still the position. What the French Minister says is up to him.

Potatoes

12.

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will make a further statement on the dispersal of the 1979–80 potato crop.

I understand that it is the view of the Potato Marketing Board that all remaining sound potatoes from the 1979 crop will be required before the end of the season.

Will my hon. Friend accept that the decision announced last week on imports of new early potatoes from Cyprus and Greece was very well received? Will he speculate on the situation that might occur in future if Greece and Spain are admitted to the EEC and we have a similar problem?

As members of the EEC, Spain and Greece will not be able to use subsidies in that way. It is significant that, as a result of the speedy and firm action that my right hon. Friend took, the Greek Government have removed their subsidies.

Dairy Farming

15.

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what is the effect on dairy farmers of the recent Brussels arrangements.

It is not possible to isolate the effects of this agreement from the many other factors which affect milk production. The actual price increase, combined with the co-responsibility levy, will not give any net benefit to our dairy producers.

Will my right hon. Friend accept that there is widespread resentment that we are contributing an increased proportion to the co-responsibility levy? The fact that our herds are, on the whole, larger than those in Europe means that they are all within the levy while many European herds are exempt. Will my right hon. Friend give attention to these aspects when this matter next comes up for discussion?

We rejected the exemptions, because they would have been unfair to the United Kingdom. The only exemptions that remain are minor exemptions in special areas. I remind my hon. Friend that other milk producers in Europe have not enjoyed the benefit of three green pound devaluations and a 22 per cent. increase in the liquid price of milk. Last year, those benefits helped our producers.

Will anything in the Brussels agreement prevent the implementation of the scheme proposed last September by the Milk Marketing Board? Does not the right hon. Gentleman realise that that scheme would be extremely helpful to producers and children? His response appears to have been apathetic.

I have spoken to the Milk Marketing Board and others about the scheme. They agree that in its present form, it would not qualify for the subsidies that are required. I am currently negotiating a new scheme in Brussels.

How can we reform the CAP—in which surplus dairy products are a significant factor—when the British Government agreed on 2 June to accept its principles? Does not my right hon. Friend realise that the second principle is to increase the earnings of individuals engaged in agriculture?

My hon. Friend should look at all the principles. One of those principles is to look after the consumer.

Does not the Minister agree that dairy farmers are more affected by high interest rates than by the Brussels agreement? What is he doing, on behalf of farmers, to get those interest rates down?

I realise that we inherited massive borrowing from the previous Labour Government and that that has had an adverse effect on interest rates.

Food Prices

16.

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what steps he proposes to take to monitor the effect of the recent EEC agreement on food prices.

I am making no further arrangements to monitor the effects on retail prices of the recent farm price settlement ; other factors such as wage increases and energy costs can have a far greater effect on food prices.

Is it not very difficult to monitor those agreements? I am pleased that the Minister is nodding in agreement. Is it not true that we are enmeshed in a web of such agreements? Does not the right hon. Gentleman accept—as my right hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley (Mr. Mason) said yesterday—that we cannot attain their objectives? Should we not now return to an open seas policy, and to the Commonwealth?

The hon. Gentleman should look at some of the basic facts. In answer to a later question, figures will be given comparing the increase in food prices and other prices during the seven-and-a-third years that we have been in the Community with the seven-and-a-third years before we joined. The hon. Gentleman might find those figures interesting. During the past 12 months food prices have risen at a slower rate than non-food prices.

Has the Minister detected any concern among his colleagues in the Council of Ministers about the effect of food prices on consumers?

Over a period of two years the total average increase in CAP food prices has been 3¼ per cent. Compared with current rates of European and world inflation, that is a remarkably low increase. At present, food costs in the United Kingdom and elsewhere are rising at a slower rate than other prices. My colleagues are concerned, because they are concerned about inflation.

Eggs

19.

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what is the level of self-sufficiency in egg production in the United Kingdom.

In 1979 the United Kingdom was 102 per cent. self-sufficient in egg production.

Is my hon. Friend aware that egg production provides a marginal but substantial form of income, and that the occasional import from glut countries greatly damages that industry?

I am well aware that egg production is very important to many producers, not least those in my hon. Friend's constituency. However, the egg industry has always involved a considerable two-way trade between the United Kingdom and Europe. The situation is no different now.

Will the Minister look carefully at the RSPCA's film on egg production? Will he consider what can be done to maintain standards, which seem to be slipping.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for drawing that film to my attention. I shall certainly take up that point.

Agricultural Policy

20.

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what representations he has received from the National Farmers Union about his agricultural policy.

I keep in close touch with the National Farmers Union on questions of agricultural policy and receive representations from it on a wide variety of matters.

Is the Minister aware that, although farmers can normally be counted on to support the Conservative Party, the Cumnock branch of the NFU has passed a resolution condemning the Government's dismal performance in all aspects of agriculture? What will he do to gain the confidence of farmers in Cumnock?

The resolution of the hon. Gentleman's branch of the NFU proves that the Labour Party's allegation that I look after farmers but not consumers is unfounded.