HC Deb 05 December 1974 vol 882 cc1918-9
5. Mr. James Lamond

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he is satisfied that there will be sufficient supplies of fresh meat available in Great Britain during the next 12 months.

The Minister of State for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. E. S. Bishop)

Yes. I am satisfied that there will be sufficient supplies of fresh meat available in this country during the next 12 months. Beef, mutton and lamb supplies are expected to be a little higher than this year whilst pork production will be lower, reflecting the reduction in the pig breeding herd in 1974.

Mr. Lamond

Is my hon. Friend aware of the farmers' appreciation for the action that was taken in putting a floor in the beef market? That appreciation is very much in contrast with their feelings towards the former Minister of Agriculture in the Tory Government, who grossly misled them when he asked them to go into beef production. Has my hon. Friend any specific proposals to put to the National Farmers' Union when they have their meeting about the supply of fodder in the immediate future?

Mr. Bishop

I appreciate my hon. Friend's comments about the position that we inherited. It is true that previously there had been great encouragement for farmers to go into beef, with the resulting problems that we have had to tackle. The action taken by my right hon. Friend will increase the confidence of producers and strengthen the return for calves.

I have nothing to add to what my right hon. Friend said earlier about the fodder situation. Proposals are now being discussed with the appropriate bodies.

Mr. Charles Morrison

The hon. Gentleman may express satisfaction about the next 12 months, but what about the period ahead of that? Has he taken note of his Ministry's figures for calf slaughterings? Has he taken note of the fall in the dairy herd from which about 8 per cent. of beef production comes? What will the beef situation be for the consumer in the period ahead of the next 12 months?

Mr. Ashton

The hon. Gentleman will have to do the same as Margaret—stash it away.

Mr. Bishop

The hon. Gentleman should bear in mind that the future policy and long-term prospects depend a great deal on our negotiations with the EEC. The Labour Party did not put us into that situation.

Although calf slaughterings have been high in recent months, we believe that the additional support given recently and in the period that we have been in power will help to firm up the market. This should reduce premature slaughterings and encourage farmers to carry calves on to higher weights.

It is important to get the matter in perspective. The provisional results of the September sample livestock inquiry for England and Wales show that, compared with September 1973, the breeding herd— the total beef and dairy-type cows— increased by 1 per cent. Within this figure the dairy herd decreased by 3.1 per cent. and the beef herd increased by 14 per cent. As a result of our recent policy decision and the achievements in Brussels, there is reason for optimism about future prospects.