HC Deb 11 December 1975 vol 902 cc636-7
6. Dr. John A. Cunningham

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food whether he will make a statement concerning his policy towards the future role of the hill cow suckler herd.

Mr. Peart

The hill cow suckler herd is important both with regard to the economic position of the hill areas and as an integral part of the beef breeding herd. The White Paper "Food from our own Resources" recognised that beef production rather than dairying could make the best use of resources in the uplands, and the Government expect the hill cow suckler herd to continue to play an important part in future beef production.

Dr. Cunningham

I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply. Is he aware that returns to producers in England from this source are still not yet up to the levels in 1973, as his Department confirmed in a recent answer? Given the significant increases in costs of fertilisers and feed to farmers on hill and upland farms, what proposals has he in mind to increase their returns and to maintain the viability of areas such as West Cumbria, which he knows so well, in this aspect of agricultural policy?

Mr. Peart

I know that my hon. Friend, who represents a hill farming area, is anxious that the hill farmers—and particularly those who are responsible for the suckler herds—should have confidence and adequate returns. Calf and store cattle prices at the autumn sales have been considerably higher than last year, and in some cases are back to 1973 levels.

Mr. Geraint Howells

Will the Minister say why the Government will not pay the hill cow subsidy in full, as recommended by his counterparts in Europe?

Mr. Peart

As the hon. Gentleman knows, I have said over and over again that I shall reexamine this if necessary but I believe that the firmness of the market shows that returns are adequate and that there is confidence. We are also operating the less-favouredareas directive.

Mr. Scott-Hopkins

Will not the right hon. Gentleman agree that, although things have marginally improved in the hills, there is a very long way to go and a great deal of difficulty still for those producing beef in the hills? Is it not necessary, therefore, to give them some injection of confidence?

As the hon. Member for Cardigan (Mr. Howells) has just suggested, would not the payment of the full Community level of subsidy be one way of doing that? Will the right hon. Gentleman not agree that, unless this is done, there will be a drying up of production from the hills? Is it not the foreign buyers who are buying and improving the market for calves from the hills?

Mr. Peart

European Community aid is a matter which we shall consider when we have our discussions on prices, which will be very soon.

Rev. Ian Paisley

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that in Northern Ireland his recent statement about the increase has been welcomed in County Fermanagh and County Tyrone where this subsidy is being paid at the moment? Will he have a serious look at parts of North Antrim and County Londonderry? Will he also extend the increase there?

Mr. Peart

As the hon. Gentleman knows, I take an interest in Northern Ireland agriculture. I have visited the area, and I know Antrim and Londonderry. I shall look at this with special reference to what the hon. Gentleman has said, and when I have made my investigation of it, I shall write to him.

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