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Surplus Food

Volume 124: debated on Thursday 17 December 1987

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To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what is the latest total volume and value in pound sterling of surplus food and drink in the EEC; and what is the cost of storage in pound sterling.

A note on levels of Community intervention stocks is deposited in the Library or the House each month. The latest estimate of the book value of these stocks is about £6·3 billion, and this year it will cost about £900 million to store them.

How can the Minister and his colleagues come to the Dispatch Box and continue to try to justify, month after month, the spending of millions of pounds of public money on the hoarding of food supplies that could be distributed to pensioners and others in need in this country, and could make a contribution to feeding starving people in the Third World? If the Common Market continues obstinately to refuse to scrap the common agricultural policy, is it not time that the British Government took unilateral action to withdraw from such an insane and immoral policy, which is making a mockery of the Christmas message of peace and good will?

Before the hon. Gentleman asks the Government to do that, he should get his own party to support that view. It does not take the view that we should withdraw from the European Community, nor do the Government. The benefits for us, for the rest of Europe and for the world are far too great to withdraw from the Community. The Government have been effective in getting, for the first time, major reductions in the amount of food going into store, especially dairy products, on which, because of actions initiated by the Government, we now have much firmer control on production. We are the leaders in Europe in getting these changes. In addition, we are great supporters of the expansion of aid to the developing world. As the hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well, Oxfam and other charities say that the need is not for food aid but for extra technical aid and money. We have taken that view also.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the stabilisers policy which he and his colleagues are pursuing in the European Commission is the best approach to reduce the amount of food in storage? It also represents the best policy for farmers, consumers and taxpayers to get the European Community budget into balance.

I am sure that that is right, for the simple reason that every country in the developed world has a system for supporting agriculture, both to ensure continuity of food supply and to see that the land is properly looked after. Other countries have more expensive systems than we have. However, we all have the problems of adapting those systems to the new situation of surpluses. For the Opposition to cat-call when we are talking about the livelihood of many millions of our fellow Europeans shows how uninterested they are in the rural economy.