asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will make a statement on progress towards fundamental reform of the common agricultural policy; and to what time scale he is working.
The Government have already made good progress in improving the operation of the common agricultural policy. The agricultural share of the Community budget has dropped from 80 per cent. when we took office to around 60 per cent. this year. We are determined to keep up our efforts for as long as necessary.
Is it not fair to say that the fundamental reform of the common agricultural policy is pure illusion?
My hon. Friend should reflect upon the fact that over the past year British food prices have increased by less than 5 per cent., our exports have increased by £600 million in the past four years and our imports are £1,000 million down. He should recognise that Britain is now obtaining considerable benefit from the changes that we have achieved in the common agricultural policy.
Will the Minister confirm that he has no intention of seeking any fundamental reforms in the common agricultural policy which would reduce the price of commodities to the British housewife?
I repeat that under the Labour Government food prices went up by 122 per cent. Under this Government they have gone up by only 32 per cent. as a result of our handling of the common agricultural policy. The view of the Minister of Agriculture in that Labour Government was that the majority of price increases were due to factors outside the Common Market. I suggest that the hon. Gentleman reflects carefully on that.
Will my right hon. Friend assure the House that in any reshaping or adjustment of the common agricultural policy he will not lose sight of the importance of the continuity of food supplies? That has gone largely unremarked during our membership of the Community, but it is valuable to the consumer.
Yes, Sir. In the 1930s we made the mistake of relying on world markets, and great sections of British agriculture and horticulture were destroyed. After the outbreak of war we recognised the terrible failure of that policy. I am pleased to say that under all post-war Governments adequate food supplies have been ensured, and under this Government our self-sufficiency in the goods that we can produce has increased from 67 to 75 per cent.