HC Deb 24 April 1975 vol 890 cc1724-6
6. Mr. Peter Mills

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, in view of the falling numbers of stock shown in the latest returns published by his Department, what plans he has to halt this trend in the interests of the consumer.

Mr. Peart

I would refer the hon. Member to the reply I gave him and other hon. Members on 20th March—[Vol. 888, c. 1845.]—and to last week's White Paper.

Mr. Mills

Does the right hon. Gentleman realise that he is presiding over a shrinking British agriculture industry? Does he realise that that is no good for the farmers, no good for the consumers and no good for the country? Will he bear in mind that the White Paper will be of no use unless it is backed up with firm, hard cash so as to get the increased production? Before the right hon. Gentleman leaves office, which obviously will not be very long now, will he reverse this downward trend? Is he aware that if he does not do so he will be known as the Minister who failed to safeguard the future of British agriculture for the consumer?

Mr. Peart

The hon. Gentleman is always moaning about the industry and spreading gloom. He knows full well that I acted quickly and that the February price determinations were accepted by the farming community as reasonable and satisfactory. The hon. Gentleman must be aware that the downward trend to which he has referred occurred under the administration of which he was a junior Minister. I am seeking to reverse that trend, and after long discussions the White Paper has been accepted and blessed by the farmers'unions in principle.

Mr. Jopling

First, may I say how grateful I am for the kind remarks that the Minister made a few minutes ago. Is he aware that we wholeheartedly welcome the most important White Paper that was published last week? Does he understand that many of my hon. Friends and many people in the industry have reservations because we have heard similar expressions of desire by Labour Governments in the past which have not been backed by cash? Is he aware that I heard of one farmer saying that he regarded the White Paper as being rather similar to being invited out to dinner and then being given nothing to eat? Does he realise that the best thing he can do today for the industry, if he means what he says in the White Paper, is to give us a straight answer and to give us an absolute assurance that the cash will be found to implement the laudable targets that the Government have set themselves?

Mr. peart

First, I must say that the hon. Gentleman is completely wrong in his view of the history of agricultural support and the expansion programme. I can remember Tom Williams'expansion programme of 1947. The resources were given and the national plan was a reasonable and sensible plan. I am glad that the hon. Gentleman has accepted the White Paper in principle. Of course it is to be backed up by resources. That is a matter which will be finally decided. We must remember that there is to be a referendum. Given that situation, we—in the Community—will determine the parts of aid which will be given from FEOGA funds and other national funds. We must await that determination. We are, however, determined to accomplish our objectives.