HC Deb 09 February 1971 vol 811 cc249-52
1. Dr. Gilbert

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food whether he will make a statement on the progress of his discussions with the brewing industry with respect to the European Economic Community draft directive on brewing.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. Anthony Stodart)

Our discussions have enabled us to identify the points we would consider with the European Economic Community should developments on the draft directive make this appropriate.

Dr. Gilbert

The Minister will be aware that nothing has yet been settled by the Europeans as to what they will do on this subject. Is he making any representations to the Europeans about this in the interests of British beer drinkers?

Mr. Stodart

We do not regard it as possible at this stage to get E.E.C. action on the draft postponed as it is a matter for the E.E.C. There have been discussions.

Mr. Lipton

In the course of these discussions, is the Minister bearing in mind the need to abolish the tied house system in this country?

Mr. Stodart

That is entirely outside the scope of the E.E.C. draft directive.

16. Mr. Scott-Hopkins

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what would be the advantages to Great Britain in an enlarged Community of the relatively large average size of farms in Great Britain.

The Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. James Prior)

The country will benefit as a member of an enlarged Community by increased agricultural production and, generally speaking, large farms should be more efficient producers than small ones.

Mr. Scott-Hopkins

Would my right hon. Friend not agree that the average size of the British farm is much larger than that of Continental ones and that larger farms than the average should do better with the higher prices which will accrue to this country after we join the E.E.C.?

Mr. Prior

Yes, my hon. Friend is absolutely right. Because of the structure of our industry, the scale of our enterprises, the size of our farms and the skill of our farmers, our farmers need have no fears about the Common Market.

Mr. Elystan Morgan

Does the right hon. Gentleman not agree that it is no secret that many farmers, especially small farmers, will have to go out of business if we enter the E.E.C.? Obviously, he has made calculations with regard to the numbers involved. Will he now be candid and tell the House what his calculations are in this matter?

Mr. Prior

For one thing there is no secret, and, for another, I think that the hon. Gentleman's supplementary question is complete and utter nonsense.

17. Mr. Scott-Hopkins

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food to what extent the newly introduced farming levy will prove an advantage to Great Britain when it comes to adapting to Community farm policy.

Mr. Prior

The interim import levy schemes will, when introduced, provide some of the mechanism that will be required to implement the common agricultural policy and will give valuable experience in operating it.

Mr. Scott-Hopkins

Would my right hon. Friend not agree that in order to take full advantage of joining the E.E.C. and the higher level of import levy, farming capital is required, and that this is gravely short at the moment?

Mr. Prior

This is tending to edge towards a question about the Farm Price Review, about which negotiations are about to begin. I think that I had better not comment.

Mr. Marten

Would my right hon. Friend care to comment on the speech by the Chancellor of the Exchequer at the Guildhall on 1st February, when he said that if we enter the Common Market we shall provide a large and expanding export market in agriculture for the Common Market countries?

Mr. Prior

That is just facing up to facts, as my right hon. Friend always does. There is no doubt that there will be increased exports from Common Market countries to this country if we join, but that is another reason why British agriculture should also expand.

19. Sir Clive Bossom

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food at what level he is holding discussions with the National Farmers' Union on matters affecting British agriculture during the negotiations on British entry into the European Economic Community.

Mr. Prior

The National Farmers' Union has been kept fully in touch with the progress of the negotiations. I and my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster met the President of the union on 5th February for cordial and useful talks.

Sir Clive Bossom

I am confident that my right hon. Friend is making every effort to obtain the best possible terms, but is he aware that the horticulturists feel that they have been left out in the cold, especially the apple growers? They want further discussions and more information, because they want to plan their own future.

Mr. Prior

I am well aware of what I know to be a serious problem, particularly for apple and pear growers. At the same time as we saw the President of the National Farmers' Union we saw the Chairman of the Central Horticultural Committee of the N.F.U. There are regular meetings between my officials concerned with the negotiations and those gentlemen. If there is anything further that I can do, I shall certainly try.

Mrs. Renée Short

Does the right hon. Gentleman recall that at the N.F.U. annual conference very recently the farmers forecast the worst slump since the 1930s, with many bankruptcies and a great deal of unemployment among farmers and farm workers, and on explosive rise in food prices? What has he to say about that?

Mr. Prior

Two things: first, this has nothing to do with the Common Market; second, it is an apt commentary on hon. Members opposite.

21. Mr. Cockeram

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will give details of the decline in the numbers of agricultural workers in the European Economic Community and in the United Kingdom over the past 10 years.

Mr. Anthony Stodart

Between 1959 and 1969 the number of agricultural workers in the United Kingdom declined by 286,000. There is no comparable figure for the European Economic Community.

Mr. Cockeram

Does my hon. Friend agree that the decline in the number of workers in agriculture in this country and the increased output that has taken place over the period augurs well for the British farmer competing against agriculture within the Six?

Mr. Stodart

The fact that despite that fall in agricultural manpower productivity has been rising by between 5 and 6 per cent. a year is an excellent testimony to what my hon. Friend has just said.

Mr. Arthur Lewis

Can the Minister explain why both he and his right hon. Friend can never give any facts and figures concerning the E.E.C. when they are of an adverse character but can always give them when they are pro-E.E.C? To what extent has he discussed these matters with the agricultural workers' union as well as the N.F.U.?

Mr. Stodart

I should not have thought that what I have just said would necessarily reflect at all badly upon the E.E.C. Therefore, I reject the hon. Gentleman's premise.

Mr. Rankin

Will the introduction of factory farming into this country not reduce the number of agricultural workers still further? What will the Minister do about that?

Mr. Stodart

I have a suspicion that the hon. Gentleman has not realised that we have moved on from the last Question.