HC Deb 04 July 1974 vol 876 cc584-7
11. Mr. Peter Mills

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food by how much he estimates that the proposals announced in his statement of 19th June increase the end price to British beef farmers in the next three or four mouths.

Mr. Peart

An increase in the guide price which I announced on 19th June will give a greater measure of protection against imports from other member States and third countries, and so provide a firmer tone in our market. But it is not possible to predict the precise effect on fat cattle prices.

Mr. Mills

If the Minister promises to do absolutely nothing to help the beef producer now to pay his bills and deal with his overdraft and bank manager, will he give a firm assurance that once certification is under way farmers will have their prices made up to the £18—otherwise confidence will continue to fall?

Mr. Peart

I have made a decision which has been welcomed by the farming industry and by the unions in this country and in Scotland specifically. I gave a pledge. The hon. Gentleman is a former Minister connected with the industry. He should know that the certification procedures will take a little time. I have to go to Europe, and the hon. Gentleman knows the difficulties there. I have been cross-examined before on the matter. I believe that what I have done has restored confidence.

Mr. Jay

Will my right hon. Friend confirm the report in today's Financial Times that the EEC beef mountain has now reached 130,000 tons, and that there is an Australian representative in Brussels trying to sell to the EEC surplus Australian beef which is at present excluded? Is it not grotesque that the British consumer should be deprived of both the EEC beef mountain and Australian beef which we could buy?

Mr. Peart

As my right hon. Friend said, stocks in the Community are growing. That is what permanent intervention means. That is why I got an option on intervention in this commodity and why I prefer another type of system. Conservative Members believe in permanent intervention; that was their policy, and they destroyed the guarantee system. That is why we are renegotiating.

Mr. West

I agree that the assistance given to the industry was beneficial. It is the urgency of the matter that concerns us all. Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that in Northern Ireland, where we have the certification machinery in being, the scheme should be put into operation as from 1st July, and that the calculations to determine the market price of fat cattle should be done on a Northern Ireland and British basis rather than on the basis of the United Kingdom as a whole? It would make a substantial difference to the beef price in Northern Ireland if it were calculated on a Northern Ireland basis.

Mr. Peart

I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will appreciate that I have to go to Brussels. The matter will come before the Council of Ministers, and a decision will have to be taken. I hope that the Council will agree with what I have done. If it does, that will be satisfactory. If not, I shall have to consider the situation.

Mr. Pym

When, in the right hon. Gentleman's judgment, will the announcement he made on beef last week bring the production of beef back into profitability?

Mr. Peart

I believe that already the firming of the market will restore confidence. I hope that the right hon Gentleman will agree that this is the right approach. I am certain that if we have a different type of system from that of permanent intervention, which I believe has failed—if we have the sort of system that I want and, I believe, the farmers want—it will be the beginning of longterm security for the livestock section of the farming community.

Mr. Watt

When the right hon. Gentleman goes to Brussels, will he see that he gets a minimum slaughter price for fat cows and fat bulls, as well as clean cattle?

Mr. Peart

I have mentioned clean cattle. I shall examine that matter, but I am doubtful.

12. Mr. Jopling

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food at what level of market prices for beef in the United Kingdom he intends to introduce intervention buying.

Mr. Peart

As I stated in the House on 26th June, permanent intervention buying is the wrong approach to the present beef situation. I explained the further action the Government are taking to be ready to undertake certification procedures for any form of direct action necessary to support producer returns.

Mr. Jopling

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that whilst he has denied producers in this country the benefits of intervention buying he has not prevented large quantities of second-rate meat from being brought, at subsidised prices, by the Community from the Continent to cold stores in this country? Is he aware that if that meat is released on our markets at a future date it may well continue to depress the market and thereby jeopardise supplies of beef in future years?

Mr. Peart

I am rather surprised that the hon. Gentleman said that we should benefit by having intervention buying. I believe that permanent intervention has failed and that it is wrong to put good beef into cold storage, reduce its quality, and deny the British housewife meat on the market. It is a silly system, and the hon. Gentleman knows it.

Mr. Mark Hughes

Can my right hon. Friend give the House any example within the EEC of intervention buying having kept the market price for beef up over the last six months?

Mr. Peart

I cannot give an example in relation to beef.

The following Question stood upon the Order Paper:

20. Mr. Biffen

To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what discussions have recently been held with representative agricultural bodies concerning the beef trade; and what conclusions were reached.

Mr. Biffen

In view of the subject matter of Question No. 21, I waive Question No. 20.