HC Deb 07 February 1974 vol 868 cc1364-6
Q4. Mr. Pardoe

asked the Prime Minister how many times he has met representatives of the National Farmers' Union.

The Prime Minister

I have met representatives of the National Farmers' Union on a number of occasions, and most recently on 26th September and 15th October last year.

Mr. Pardoe

Did the President of the National Farmers' Union tell the right hon. Gentleman in October that he was producing milk at a loss? Is it not a remarkable achievement that the Government should have presided over a catastrophic rise in the price of food to the housewife and a catastrophic fall in profits for the farmer at one and the same time? How was it done? Will the right hon. Gentleman guarantee that milk production will be profitable before 28th February?

The Prime Minister

What we discussed at both meetings was the great price increase in feeding stuffs which dairy farmers have had to finance over the past few months. It was as a result of these discussions that it was agreed to bring forward the price review, to take account of price increases. It is well known that under this Government there has been a tremendous increase in the expansion of agriculture. The hon. Gentleman should know that the profitability of agriculture for dairy farmers has been satisfactory until the past few months. That is a matter of common agreement between the NFU and, I hope, both sides of the House, and it is a matter which we must put right.

Sir Robin Turton

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the plight of the pig farmer and the dairy farmer is desperate and that it is in the national interest to introduce measures of encouragement at an early stage, so that we can expand production and cut down an import bill which last year amounted to £2,300 million?

The Prime Minister

I agree with my right hon. Friend the Father of the House. I have already assured the House that this matter is being dealt with at the earliest possible time by bringing forward the price review. We are determined to see that dairy farming continues to expand.

Mr. Buchan

Will the right hon. Gentleman be telling the people in the coming weeks that it will cost the taxpayer and the consumer several hundred million pounds in the price review to make up for his policy deficiencies? Will he make it clear that one of the reasons for his flight from Parliament is that he does not want to fight the election on the three-bob loaf?

The Prime Minister

There is no justification for either of those allegations. Other hon. Members have been saying in the House that it is the farmers themselves who have been financing the increase in the price of feeding stuffs and that in some cases they may even be engaged in dairy farming at a loss. That is not a burden on the taxpayer. It is necessary to maintain expansion, and the matter must be put right.