HC Deb 23 May 1974 vol 874 cc577-9
7. Mr. Geraint Howells

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what progress has been made in integrating the hill farming policies of the United Kingdom with those of the EEC; and whether he is satisfied with the assistance available to British hill farmers.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. Roland Moyle)

Integration of our hill farming policies with those of the EEC would be through the Directive on Less Favoured Areas, which has not yet come into effect. The level of assistance that we are giving to our hill farmers at present appears to be adequate.

Mr. Howells

I know that the Minister is aware that there are two schools of thought in Britain and within the EEC on the future of hill land in Britain. Many believe—

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman must ask a question.

Mr. Howells

Is the Minister aware that, given the right incentives, production from the hills could be doubled? Will he assure the House that he will do everything in his power to persuade his counterparts in Europe that he will fulfil this promise?

Mr. Moyle

Yes, Sir. There are still a number of negotiations to carry out, and we shall carry them out with that end in view.

Mr. Scott-Hopkins

Does the Minister agree that the hill farming directive was passed by the Council of Ministers, that all it needs now is its implementation, and that if it is implemented properly in the United Kingdom it will be of great benefit to hill farmers and increase the production of not only hill farms but marginal land?

Mr. Moyle

Certainly the directive has to be implemented. We have done all we can at this stage to ensure that it is implemented.

Mr. Anthony Stodart

Will the Minister confirm that the hill areas in this country which receive assistance, and the grants, will remain roughly similar?

Mr. Moyle

I do not want to disagree. "Roughly" is, I think, the word.

Livestock Farmers

(Vale of Belvoir)

8. Mr. Michael Latham

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food whether he will make an official visit to the Vale of Belvoir, Leicestershire, in order to meet livestock farmers there.

Mr. Peart

I have no present intentions to make an official visit to the Vale of Belvoir. I have had full discussions with representatives of the farming community and am well aware of the present situation of livestock farmers.

Mr. Latham

I regret that answer. As the 50p pig subsidy has not stopped the level of sow slaughtering so far, what confidence has the right hon. Gentleman that keeping it going next month, at the present amount, will reduce that level of slaughtering?

Mr. Peart

I have said in reply to Questions, and have repeated it in speeches when pressed by hon. Members on both sides of the House, that if I felt that the subsidy should continue I should take action. That is what I have done. I am carefully watching the market.

Mr. John Ellis

Will my right hon. Friend accept some of the invitations to visit certain areas? If Conservative Members are to make political noises as friends of the farmers, will he go to those areas to tell the farmers that the Conservatives are making dupes of them? Conservative Members appear as their champions and then, when it comes to a vote in the House, instead of their having a majority of 19, we have a majority of 11. On the occasion to which I am referring they pulled 30 Members out of the Lobby. The farmers might be interested in that.

Mr. Peart

Many farm leaders have noted the Opposition's attitude, especially on a crucial debate. I am grateful for my hon. Friend's comments.

Mrs. Kellett-Bowman

Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that many farmers very much regret that he will not visit fanners from widely varied constituencies or allow them to come here to meet him? Does he recall that I have been trying to persuade him to meet my farmers since 11th April, and that he gave as his reply to my request the fact that he did not think it would be helpful to meet farmers from any particular area? Will he accept that my farmers and many others take the opposite view, and feel that it would do him a great deal of good to meet ordinary working farmers and not only their national officials, good though they are?

Mr. Peart

I am continually in touch with the farming community and farming leaders. Moreover, I have told the hon. Lady that I shall be delighted to see her at my Ministry if she wishes, at any time, to discuss the problems of her constituents. [Interruption.] She is the representative of her constituents, and I am sure that she will be able to put their point of view adequately and eloquently.

Mr. Pym

The trouble in the debate was that the Minister gave no hope to the industry. Is he aware that we on the Conservative benches are interested in the consumer? Are not Labour Members aware that if there are shortages, prices go up? Does not the Minister agree that the fact that there were 15 per cent. fewer gilts in pig in the first quarter of this year compared with last year means shortages and higher prices? What will he do about it?

Mr. Peart

I am rather surprised at the right hon. Gentleman, who was Chief Whip in the previous Government. He knows that his own leader said that he would reduce prices at a stroke, and look what happened.