HC Deb 05 December 1974 vol 882 cc1928-30
16. Mr. Brittan

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food whether it is his policy to provide guaranteed prices to British beef producers on a permanent basis.

26. Mr. Hordern

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what measures he will introduce to support beef producers after January 1975; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Peart

I refer the hon. Member to the assurance I gave in the debate on 25th November. It is my firm intention to secure arrangements from February onwards which will continue to give a measure of support to our beef industry equivalent to that given by the temporary arrangements introduced on 18th November.—[Vol. 882, c. 73–4.]

Mr. Brittan

I welcome that answer, but does not the Minister accept that it is essential for beef producers not to live on a month-to-month basis if there is to be any assurance of adequate supplies in the future? Will he confirm that it is his intention that there should be not merely a measure of support but a permanent guarantee available to all beef producers?

Mr. Peart

I am glad that the hon. Gentleman welcomes my statement. He will appreciate that I have to go to the Community and negotiate this, when we discuss the beef régime in February.

Mr. Hordern

When will the result of these negotiations be available? That is what farmers want to know. Will the Minister also give us a firm assurance that farmers will be given an absolute guarantee price upon which they can deal themselves?

Mr. Peart

I have made a firm statement. I cannot say when negotiations will finish, but the beef year starts on 1st March, in the sense of fixing prices and matters affecting the industry. We are anxious to get things going much earlier and I shall certainly do what I can.

Mr. Winterton

Does the right hon. Gentleman not agree that there is still a serious situation in agriculture, particularly in the livestock sector? Will he press the Leader of the House to set up a Select Committee on agriculture and to allow time for a debate on the export of live animals, which is a very important matter to the livestock farmers?

Mr. Peart

I agree with the hon. Member about the O'Brien Report. The decision about a debate, which originally came up when a previous decision had been made in the House, will be a matter for the Leader of the House. I am well aware of its importance and have had considerable pressures from the industry. I understand the industry's point of view, and it knows that I am sympathetic, but this will be a matter for the House. The question of a Select Committee is a matter for my right hon. Friend.

Mr. Torney

Does my right hon. Friend agree that in order to give the beef industry a firm basis it would be a good idea to introduce a marketing board? If he agreed, would he start some machinery working for consultations with all sides of the industry for setting up such a board?

Mr. Peart

My hon. Friend will appreciate that a decision on the question whether we should have a marketing board, similar to the Milk Marketing Board, for example, is a matter for the producers. The legislation is there. Within that, they can make certain decisions, but it will be for them, not for me, as the Minister.

Mr. Buchan

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the interpretation of his last deal in Brussels was different from the interpretation given in this country, in so far as the deficiency payments structure has been regarded as a temporary exception and the intervention structure as permanent? Will he accept it from me that both the Labour Party and, I believe, this House would prefer it the other way round—that the intervention system was the temporary exception and the guaranteed price and deficiency payments system was made permanent?

Mr. Peart

I thought I made it clear in my statement that I have completely reserved my position, so there is no question of that.

Mr. Pym

The Minister referred to his assurance of 25th November, but does he recall his assurance on 26th June about a price of £18 a hundredweight, which he repeated on 17th July? In those circumstances, does he not think that he should make arrangements for retrospective payments to August at some convenient date, so as to be fair to those who believed what he said on 26th June?

Mr. Peart

I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will not be so carping. The variable premium system that I have secured from the Community now gives something that hon. Members opposite never wanted. They believed in permanent intervention as a matter of supporting the Community. What I shall negotiate in February, I believe, will be along the lines of what I said earlier today. I am glad that Conservative back benchers at least have welcomed it.

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