asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what is his latest information as to the costs incurred by charities in the operation of the European Economic Community food aid scheme.
Community funds cover the costs for charities of packaging free food and transporting it to their own distribution points; and claims for a total of £1·8 million have so far been received by the Intervention Board for Agricultural Produce. Onward distribution costs were for the charities themselves.
Does the Minister accept that if any such scheme is discussed in future with the Commission, strong representations should be made to it so that charities can be properly compensated for their loss of time, use of premises and expenses under such a scheme?
The hon. Gentleman is right to say that we should learn lessons from the scheme. I hope he will not say that it was a complete loss. Most of the charities to whose representatives I have spoken have welcomed the opportunities that the scheme gave them. It has enabled them to reach people in certain areas whom they would not otherwise have reached. If the subject is raised again, perhaps the way to tackle it would be to make the scheme more efficient, but I do not know whether it will be raised.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that last month the Public Accounts Committee was told that 9,000 tonnes of butter had been given away under the scheme, but that stocks in this country remained at 237,000 tonnes? If he uses the scheme again to give some of those massive quantities away, will he ensure that the details are more accurately thought out first?
My hon. Friend must accept that it was never seen as a means of getting rid of surpluses. It was seen as a means of helping people who had been particularly hard hit by the bad weather. However detailed the organisation may have been, if we had held it up we would probably have got rid of less in this country, given the timing that was arranged. In the end, people can use only a certain amount of butter. We have given away 54 million packets of butter and over 8 million portions of beef. Some of us ought to say how good that is and support the charities for the work that they have done.
Should not the Government accept their responsibilities and properly cover the cost of the distribution of the food, rather than sponge off charities such as the Salvation Army and War on Want in such a disgraceful way?
To my knowledge War on Want has not been involved in this. The Salvation Army and the other charities that have been involved have all accepted the terms on which it was run with great enthusiasm. I am sorry to say to the hon. Gentleman, who I know does not mean his comments in this way, that the only people who are making the sort of comment that he is making are the politically motivated Members on the Opposition Benches.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that many people in the country believe that this scheme was a very good one and that it provided an advantage for the charities involved to do good work, which is what they are there to do? In future, will he see that the scheme is extended rather than diminished?
I agree with my hon. Friend that it has provided great opportunities and I very much commend the sort of comments that have been made by people such as the Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster and the heads of the Salvation Army and other charities about their pleasure at being able to take part in such an important scheme. Of course we must still learn from it. We are not complacent about it, but the nasty party political backbiting that we have heard from the Labour party is something that we should eschew.