HC Deb 22 November 1973 vol 864 cc1531-4
2. Sir Robin Turton

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food whether he will advance the date of the annual price review so as to give earlier relief to the problem of the dairy farmer.

9. Mr. Charles Morrison

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will advance the date of the annual farm review.

Mr. Godber

I have arranged to have the first plenary session leading up to the review on 6th December and a meeting to discuss the milk sector on 13th December. These preliminary meetings should help to ensure that we complete the first stage of the review process by the end of January. The Government will then do everything they can to complete and announce the determinations by about the end of February.

Sir Robin Turton

While I appreciate the decision which my right hon. Friend has reached in the interests of the agriculture industry, may I ask whether he will pay very great attention to the problem of the milk farmer? Is he aware that, although others have endured unparalleled increases in the costs of production and in loan charges on their overdrafts, the milk farmer alone has had the price of his product frozen and can get no compensation for those increases?

Mr. Godber

My right hon. Friend has made a perfectly valid point, which I accept. For the reasons which I have had to give on a number of occasions, however, it is not possible for the Government to take action now. But this matter is very much in mind, and I am endeavouring to bring forward the review so that we can get the determinations announced at an earlier date.

Mr. Jay

If the Government are so worried about high feeding stuffs prices, why are they now imposing an import tax on barley imported into this country from outside the EEC?

Mr. Godber

The main point is that we are importing these foods from outside the Community at a price which in some cases is higher than that within the Community. It is the world price conditions which control what happens, and not the position in regard to levies and import charges. That is the disturbing factor. At the moment, however, there are signs that the world market price of cereals is beginning to recede and I hope that this will soon be reflected in the price.

Mr. Morrison

I know that what my right hon. Friend has said about the review will be welcomed. Is he aware, however, that, because of experience in the milk producing industry, confidence throughout the agriculture industry as a whole, and in particular in the livestock section, is hanging by a slightly thinner thread than it has been and that in consequence an early and generous review is necessary to reassure farmers? Secondly, will he take note of the National Farmers' Union survey, which shows that he will obtain support from townspeople as well as from country people in any measure he puts forward for the expansion of home agriculture?

Mr. Godber

Yes. I am grateful to my hon. Friend for drawing attention to the latter point, but I share his desire to ensure that confidence is maintained. Our farmers certainly have a good record of increased production over the last three years, and I want to see it continue and expand.

Mr. Fernyhough

Will the right hon. Gentleman say whether, if world prices continue to rise, the revenue which is collected and sent back to the Common Market through the levy system will also increase? Is it the case that as world prices soar, so too do the levies, thus increasing prices far beyond what would otherwise have been necessary?

Mr. Godber

I think that the right hon. Gentleman is on a false point. In many of these cases the levy is suspended when the price rises above a certain level. Thus, high prices do not in the main mean a higher payment to the Community. We accepted certain undertakings in the Treaty of Accession for the payment of levies, but the levies are not necessarily increased by the level of world prices.

20. Mr. John Wells

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will seek to make an unusually early price review in 1974 and, in view of the changed position of the price review itself, if he will seek to review horticultural items at the same time early in the spring in future years.

Mr. Godber

We shall be starting the review discussions next month and hope to announce the determinations somewhat earlier than usual. The annual review was widened last year and now covers horticultural aspects over a wide field.

Mr. Wells

Is my right hon. Friend aware that horticulturists will very much welcome his reply, particularly in view of his answer to an earlier Question, that British horticulturists have done less to create a rise in the price of food than any other section of food producers?

Mr. Godber

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. British horticulturists are playing and can continue to play an effective part in this. I am glad to see the way in which they are developing their production at the present time. I am sorry that they have had some disappointment over recent months in regard to the termination of the Horticulture Improvement Scheme, but the new scheme beginning in January will, I hope, encourage them further in the direction to which my hon. Friend referred.

Mr. Mackie

Was it really necessary to stop the old scheme in the middle of the year when the new scheme will start in January, thereby upsetting so many horticulturists?

Mr. Godber

While I sympathise with that point, I must point out that a strict limitation of £47 million was placed by Parliament on the total amount and that this had been reached by the very large increase in the number of applications which were made earlier this year. But I was glad to see those applications because they indicated the confidence which horticulturists have, despite the extra competition in the EEC. It would not have been practicable to extend the old scheme, and the important thing is to get the new one going as soon as possible.