HC Deb 23 May 1974 vol 874 cc585-6
15. Mr. Charles Morrison

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will define what he considers to be unrealistic levels of market prices of beef given current costs of production.

29. Mr. Evelyn King

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what is his estimate, on the last convenient date, as to the loss sustained per animal, in the context of beef fattening, by a farmer marketing.

Mr. Buchan

The economics of beef production vary widely according to the methods employed. Precise assessments of profitability depend on individual circumstances.

Mr. Morrison

I hope that the House will excuse me if I do not declare at length my direct or indirect interest in the production of beef. Is not the present price level below that at which it is economic for farmers to produce? Is it not time the Minister faced up to the situation and stopped playing politics with the nation's beef supplies?

Mr. Buchan

I cannot understand the hon. Gentleman. We are doing nothing of the kind. We gave a major injection to the beef industry following my right hon. Friend's discussions in Brussels in early March. It was a much-needed injection. Secondly, we have demonstrated our intention to act where necessary by doing what we did for pig production this week. We shall act if we need to.

Mr. Farr

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the state of beef producers has never been worse than it is today? If he is not aware of it, will he and the Minister of Agriculture take an armoured car and come to Leicestershire with an escort and find out from the producers there what they think of the Government and their policies?

Mr. Buchan

As it happens, I visited Leicestershire a week ago and met a large number of farmers connected with the beef industry.

Mr. Pym

The hon. Gentleman says that the Government will act if necessary. Is he aware that the size of the herd is falling considerably? Is that not against the national interest? Will he define the circumstances in which the need will arise? When will he act?

Mr. Buchan

According to the March livestock inquiry, the national breeding herd expanded by almost 4 per cent. in the previous 12 months, while the beef herd rose by 21 per cent. Admittedly, the dairy herd declined by 1.2 per cent. If the situation deteriorates we shall act. This week we have demonstrated our willingness to act.