HC Deb 09 February 1971 vol 811 cc264-5
15. Mr. Strang

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if the fall-back guarantee price envisaged in the proposed new system of agriculture support will be guaranteed by deficiency payments.

Mr. Prior

Fall-back guarantee will not be required under the proposed interim levy schemes since the present guaranteed prices will continue. The precise form that the fall-back arrangements should take under comprehensive levy schemes is still being considered. They will need to be adapted to the needs and considerations of each commodity.

Mr. Strang

Is the Minister aware that prior to the General Election the agricultural industry was under the impression that, inevitably, a Conservative Government would back up the fall-back price with a deficiency payment, so that that fall-back price was a reality? If that is no longer the Minister's position, will he explain to the industry that the deficiency payments system may be removed completely?

Mr. Prior

No, we have never maintained, and no one has ever said, that the deficiency payments system would continue once we reached the stage of fallback guarantees. What we have made abundantly clear is that in the transitional period—in other words, for the next three or four years—the guaranteed prices system will continue as it is now, and during that time we shall have consultations with the National Farmers' Union and other interested bodies to see how best to implement the fall-back guarantee and at what level.

Mr. Cledwyn Hughes

Would the Minister be more precise on a very important point? Will he confirm that the fall-back guarantee will be a safety net, and a very low one, and that it will be used only in case of some emergency, which could well happen?

Mr. Prior

I do not want to get drawn into a discussion of the level of the fallback guarantee at this stage, because no decision has been reached and no consultations have yet taken place. Certainly, the fall-back guarantee will be set at levels lower than the existing guarantee, but we shall be moving more towards target prices than we have done at the moment.