HC Deb 04 July 1974 vol 876 cc578-80
4. Sir David Renton

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food whether he is aware that cattle and pig producers still find that the price of feedingstuffs is too high and that market prices are too low; and whether he will take urgent and special steps to deal with this situation, pending the arrival of the coming grain harvest.

10. Sir J. Langford-Holt

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food whether he is aware that, compared with the figures for the same period a year earlier, the slaughtering of animals between 19th January and 13th April 1974 show the following increases; cows and bulls 26 per cent., calves 81 per cent., ewes and rams 25 per cent., sows and boars 49 per cent.; what has caused these increases; and what action he proposes to take to reverse this trend.

22. Mr. Pym

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will now make a statement explaining how he intends to fulfil his undertaking to sustain the beef market.

25. Mr. Pardoe

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will make a statement about the beef industry in the South-West and Cornwall.

Mr. Peart

I would refer hon. Members to my statement in the House on 26th June.

Sir D. Renton

We are puzzled to know when the arrangements for improving the beef situation will come into force. Will the right hon. Gentleman say when that will be? On pigs, is he aware that between 1st April and 15th June the number of sows and boars slaughtered was 106,000, which was 36 per cent. more than last year? This trend is continuing, with results that will be disastrous for consumers and producers. What is the Minister planning to do about it?

Mr. Peart

I hope that the right hon. and learned Gentleman read and understood what I was trying to achieve and what I hope to achieve also in the Community when I go there very soon. I have here a statement from the Scottish NFU which welcomes my statement and the action I have taken. We are putting a floor in the market. We have started to instigate certification procedures and we have given a subsidy on pigs of £30 million.

Sir J. Langford-Holt

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that what he said about pigs may be important; but an extremely dangerous situation is arising, in that breeding herds are being slaughtered? That may be a temporary problem in some cases, but if the slaughtering continues the problem will be carried forward for years to come.

Mr. Peart

Slaughtering took place long before I ever became a Minister. I believe that our attempt to restore confidence by injecting national aid and subsidy was right. Added to that, I believe that my appeal for a reduction in the costs of feedingstuffs was the right one, and I am glad to say that the industry responded. I hope that the hon. Member will not talk the industry down.

Mr. Thorne

A number of small livestock producers in the Preston—South Ribble area are suffering considerably from the increased cost of raw materials, tools and other farming commodities. Will my right hon. Friend give some information that would encourage them to believe that their prospects for the future are likely to improve under this Government rather than deteriorate?

Mr. Peart

I believe that our desire for a long-term agricultural policy is right. We have initiated discussions with the unions concerned. Our stance in Europe, where we have resisted the intervention policy on beef production, was the correct approach from our point of view, and the farming community, particularly in Scotland, feels that we have done something positive. In addition the decision not to end the lime subsidy, which will benefit small producers, has been welcomed by the industry. The Conservatives were prepared to let it go by the board.

Mr. Pym

I do not accept any of the right hon. Gentleman's last comments. Will he confirm that the premium to which he referred in his speech last week, of £18 per cwt, will be at that figure and not below it? When will certification actually begin, and when will the producer begin to receive the benefit the right hon. Gentleman announced?

Mr. Peart

I referred to this in my speech. I specifically said that certification procedures would take about three to four weeks—[An HON. MEMBER: "Why?"]—because it is a big administrative job. If hon. Members do not understand that they do not understand farming. In addition, I must see what the attitude of the Community is. This will not be easy. Conservative Members, however, who are great Europeans, defended the system. I must pursue this matter even though we are in a period of renegotiation. The right hon. Gentleman knows that £18 per cwt was a firm decision. I am pleased to see that prices are relatively stable.

Mr. Torney

Will my right hon. Friend say what his attitude will be if, when he goes to the Community with the support he has promised for beef, the Community refuses to support the offer he has made? Will he—as he should—take unilateral action to give the beef farmer the support he deserves?

Mr. Peart

It would be wrong of me, before going there, to indulge in hypothetics. I shall judge the situation as I see it and then make a decision.

Mr. Winterton

I am sure that the farming industry welcomes the limited measures introduced by the Minister recently, but does he not agree that further action is required, and will he declare to the House whether the slaughter premium is for liveweight or deadweight?

Mr. Peart

I am having discussions about this, regarding the procedures involved, and I cannot say more at this stage.

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