HC Deb 29 November 1967 vol 755 cc410-3
6. Mr. Peter Mills

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will take immediate steps to relieve the pressure of increased costs on farmers' incomes.

37. Mr. Monro

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will estimate the rise in costs to agriculture in Great Britain since the 1967 Price Review, on the basis of a full year's figures.

63. Mr. Turton

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food whether he will now hold a special agricultural Price Review in order to secure a saving of £200 million this year on our balance of payments account, and in order to compensate producers for their increased cost of production resulting from devaluation of the £ sterling.

Mr. Peart

I cannot yet say what the total rise in costs will be in a full year. In particular, it is too early to assess what additional costs may arise from devaluation. In present circumstances, I do not consider a special Review would be justified, but the Government are considering the implications for agriculture of the new situation.

Mr. Mills

Will the Minister bear in mind that costs to farmers are increasing from every angle and that many of these costs are the direct result of this Government's measures? Will he not have a special Price Review, bring forward the Review so that these costs can be recouped immediately?

Mr. Peart

I accept that costs have risen. I give one example, wage costs. This will have a major effect. These are matters which we shall have to consider in the Review. It is not yet possible to estimate any increases caused by devaluation.

Mr. Monro

Will the Minister accept that the figure of rising costs is already at least £30 million this year? When considering the Price Review, can he not anticipate rises in wages so that farmers are not always a year behind?

Mr. Peart

I will not commit myself to a figure. This is something we must discuss with the industry and it would be wrong to try to be precise. Anyone could make a guess and be right or not right, but I do not think it would be right for me to make a guess.

Mr. Turton

If the Minister will not hold a special Review, is there not a danger that we shall not get the saving of £200 million on our balance of payments which is absolutely essential to this country? Will he not therefore initiate a policy of cutting down unnecessary food imports, starting with eggs and beef?

Mr. Peart

I have said that we are looking at this whole question which arises from devaluation. We do not need a special Review for this. There are some commodities on which we can take action without having any Review procedure. We are having discussions, but I am not going to be pushed into taking a panic measure.

Mr. W. Baxter

Would it not be helpful if the Opposition would make clear whether they are in support of import control or of bringing forward the Price Review?—[HON. MEMBERS: "Both."]—I imagine that my right hon. Friend is entitled to know their views.

Mr. Peart

My hon. Friend is quite right. We are not certain what the policy of the Opposition is. I am not certain whether they want import control, import substitution, or the direct agreements—which they signed, not I.

Mr. Maclennan

Will my right hon. Friend enter discussions with the Chancellor of the Exchequer with a view to raising the ceiling on credit for farmers, particularly in Scotland, and easing the general situation of farmers' borrowing? This is something which must be undertaken for the Price Review whenever it is held.

Mr. Peart

I will take note of what my hon. Friend has said, and I am sure the Secretary of State for Scotland will take note of his question and bear it in mind. This is a matter for discussion with the unions.

Mr. Stodart

Is the Minister aware that, unhappily, he is sounding more casual than usual about this matter and that continually "giving consideration" is not enough in an urgent situation such as this? There has been a substantial and sudden change in costs. Will he start the Review machinery earlier?

Mr. Peart

I have told the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends, including the right hon. Gentleman who leads the Scottish Opposition, that I have acted already. Immediately devaluation was announced I got my own Ministry officials working on this, and we are having a precise examination of where we can best assist the industry in relation to specific commodities. I believe that that is the right course. I do not accept the view that we need the Review to be put forward or a special Review. I am certain that this is the view of sensible people in the industry.

Mr. Emrys Hughes

In view of the difficulties of the small tenant farmer, will the Minister consider getting in touch with the leaders of the Opposition to see if we can get agreed legislation to provide for a moratorium on rents?

Mr. Peart

I think not.

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