§ 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. 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 407 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. 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. 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. 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 408 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. 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.