HC Deb 15 March 1979 vol 964 cc682-4
5. Mr. Farr

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food when next he will attend a meeting of the Council of Agriculture Ministers of the European Economic Community.

7. Sir John Langford-Holt

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food when next he will attend a meeting of the Council of Agriculture Ministers of the European Economic Community.

11. Mr. Gould

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food when he expects next to meet his European Economic Community colleagues.

Mr. John Silkin

On 26 and 27 March.

Mr. Farr

Is the Minister aware that some weeks ago he spoke about the proposed devaluation of the green pound by 5 per cent. and that in the interim we have had one of the most savage, severe and expensive winters for British farming for many decades? Has he taken that into account, and does he think that 5 per cent. is adequate to meet the bill?

Mr. Silkin

There is another factor that must be taken into account, and that is why it is much better to look at the situation when we arrive at it and not in advance. The other factor to be taken into account is the strengthening of the pound sterling. The basis of that is that there has been a cut in the competitive rates between this country and its European partners. When I come to the price fixing, and thereafter—assuming that I shall have managed to preserve the right of a country to devalue when it wishes—I shall look at the matter in the national interest.

Sir J. Langford-Holt

In order to assess the value of these Council meetings, can the right hon. Gentleman say whether it remains his policy that the United Kingdom should withdraw from the European Community as soon as possible?

Mr. Silkin

It was never my policy—it was always my view. That view, I regret to say, was a minority view in the referendum which took place, if my memory serves me correctly, in 1975. My views on the Common Market remain what they have always been.

Mr. Gould

Is my right hon. Friend aware that there is a widespread belief in Common Market capitals—which was lent considerable support by the Leader of the Opposition yesterday—that a Conservative Government would be much more pliant than the present Government on CAP matters and would be much less concerned about protecting national interests? Will my right hon. Friend make it clear to his EEC colleagues that when he uses a little abrasion to wear down Common Market food prices he may not have the support of the Conservative Front Bench but he does have the support of the whole of the Labour Party and virtually the whole country?

Mr. Silkin:

Probably my best use of time in the Council is simply to get on with the job. I promise my hon. Friend that I shall do that.

Mr. Marten

Can the Minister bring us up to date on the proposal for a sheep-meat regime? Has he made it clear to the Community that the House is unlikely to agree to anything that disadvantages New Zealand?

Mr. Silkin

The sheepmeat regime has been progressing very slowly. If one can talk about a regime dragging its feet, it has been doing so for about two years. Whenever the question arises I have made three basic points, which I shall put in order of priority as I see them: first, the protection of New Zealand; secondly, the protection of our own farmers; and, thirdly, the protection of our consumers.

Mr. Heffer

When my right hon. Friend next goes to the Agriculture Council, will he take with him a copy of the Labour Party's direct elections manifesto and show it to the Agriculture Ministers in Europe? In particular, will he point out that part of the manifesto which says that if, in the event, we cannot get the fundamental changes in the CAP that are essential, not only for Britain but for Europe as a whole, we must reconsider our position and that, as some of us feel, we may have to come out?

Mr. Silkin

I always get the feeling that some of my colleagues in the Agriculture Council have read the manifesto even before I have. I am glad that my hon. Friend mentioned Europe because, curiously, this is not only a British consideration. The problem of dealing with absurdly high prices and high surpluses is a British consideration, a European consideration and, if I may say so, a world consideration, because it leads to the dumping at absurd prices of foodstuffs in the rest of the world in a way that prevents proper development of the developing countries.

Mr. Watt

At the next meeting of the Council, will the right hon. Gentleman discuss the ludicrous situation whereby live cattle are exported from this country to Germany and are slaughtered there, to the benefit of the German worker and the German abattoir trade, after which the meat is then reimported into Britain, collecting huge MCAs as it comes?

Mr. Silkin

This is one of the difficulties that arise in a MCA policy. I understand the point that the hon. Gentleman is making, but I must take into account all the other implications, and it is for that reason that in an earlier answer I said that on every occasion I must consider the national interest.