HC Deb 29 November 1967 vol 755 cc406-8
3. Mr. Buchanan-Smith

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will initiate an inquiry into how the balance of payments position of this country could be strengthened by an expansion in British agriculture.

Mr. Peart

My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer has already said that we are reviewing the implications for agriculture of the new situation created by devaluation.

Mr. Buchanan-Smith

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that as long as he delays introducing measures and incentives to expand home production he is stifling one of the industries which can contribute most to this country's economic recovery?

Mr. Peart

I am not attempting to stifle the industry. I have already made a public pronouncement about the effects of devaluation and I have paid tribute to the agriculture industry. In addition, I have always defended the selective expansion programme and the rôle which home agriculture can play. In view of devaluation, I am looking at this matter carefully and having it re-examined.

Mr. Mackintosh

When my right hon. Friend has completed his re-examination, will he either bring the Price Review forward or make an announcement so that farmers may alter their plans for the coming year to fulfil what the Chancellor of the Exchequer requires in the way of expansion?

Mr. Peart

As my hon. Friend knows, I am examining this matter, and if I have to make an announcement I will do so. I recognise that there are certain commodities which need to be considered. There is no attempt at delay.

Mr. Godber

We are all glad that the Minister is reviewing the matter, but would he agree that there is urgency about it because farmers' costs have increased and every hon. Member wants to see a real expansion in production and to give all the assistance we can to achieve it? Would the right hon. Gentleman make a statement as soon as possible?

Mr. Peart

Certainly. I am glad that all hon. Members will assist me when I make a statement and will help to carry out the policy. I am most grateful.

Mr. Tudor Watkins

Will my right hon. Friend give serious consideration to the imports of mutton and lamb and try to bring about expansion, particularly as there is so much concern about this matter in view of the Common Market negotiations?

Mr. Peart

I have said that I am looking at this matter, and I will make a statement as soon as possible. I cannot go further than that. I note what my hon. Friend says.

Mr. Turton

Surely there is a special procedure laid down for occasions such as this—a special agricultural Price Review? Will not the Minister invoke this procedure instead of waiting for March when, by dillying and dallying, he will have lost a great opportunity for agriculture?

Mr. Peart

The right hon. Gentleman knows full well that there are certain things which I can do, but I want to look at this matter carefully. There is no reason why we should panic. Immediately devaluation was announced, I set in motion a careful examination which my officials are now carrying out. As soon as I decide the priorities, I will inform the House.

Sir Frank Pearson

Does the right hon. Gentleman recollect that, as far back as the much vaunted National Plan, the proposal was that agricultural production should increase substantially? This has not happened. Will he now accept that very urgent measures are necessary in the light of the present situation and see that this does happen?

Mr. Peart

I am anxious that the industry should make its maximum contribution. This has been stressed by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the Prime Minister and myself. I believe it can do so and I hope there will be no pessimism from any source.

Mr. Henry Clark

Will the Minister search for different ways of making promises of expanded agriculture more credible to the industry than previous promises seem to have been?

Mr. Peart

It is unfair of the hon. Member to say that. I have had discussions and am in close touch with the National Farmers' Union, which represents the industry. We work well together. I know the Union's views and I always take note of what its members say in relation to the expansion programme. Although we did not lay down specific commodity targets, the broad policy was accepted by the industry.

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