HC Deb 11 December 1975 vol 902 cc633-6
5. Mr. Michael Latham

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food whether he will now make a further statement on the progress to date towards the objectives contained in the White Paper Food from our own Resources."

33. Mr. Nicholas Winterton

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food whether, in the light of the import saving which would result from the increased availability of home-grown food processed by British food firms, he will accelerate the introduction of the measures advocated in the White Paper, "Food from Our Own Resources."

The Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. Fred Peart)

I refer the hon. Members to the reply which my hon. Friend gave the hon. Member for Melton (Mr. Latham) on 23rd October. In the Annual Review, which has now started, we are reviewing the state of the industry in the light of the strategy set out in the White Paper.—[Vol. 898, c. 222.]

Mr. Latham

Do not the deplorable September livestock returns show clearly that agriculture is moving backwards? Is not expansion threatened, first, by the Government's capital taxation policies and, secondly, by their biased attitude towards tied cottages?

Mr. Peart

I cannot accept that. Beef prices show a return of confidence which has been caused by my being able to obtain a premium system, which has worked. The hon. Gentleman must also recognise the return of confidence that is developing in the milk industry. Milk production has increased considerably over that of last year.

Mr. Torney

Does my right hon. Friend agree that, rather than making agriculture a political football, as the Opposition often do, it would be better for the country if my right hon. Friend were to consider the setting up of an all-party Select Committee to examine the industry and determine how to put into effect the policy contained in the White Paper "Food from our own Resources"?

Mr. Peart

The setting up of a Select Committee is a matter not for me but for my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House. I resent the gloom-mongering of some hon. Members. I think that confidence is returning.

Mr. Winterton

Does the Minister accept that the figures for the cattle breeding herd, the dairy herd and the pig breeding herd are all down? I could enumerate more. Is he satisfied with investment in agriculture? Does he not feel that Government policies militate against further investment? Is he satisfied with the level of profitability of the food manufacturing and processing industry which is, in my view, minute? Does it allow for expansion and encourage new investment?

Mr. Peart

We still adhere to the White Paper "Food from our own Resources", which reveals the Government's strategy. I accept that for various reasons there has been some measure of retrenchment, but I cannot accept the gloom that some people purvey in the House and outside. In the dairy sector, which is important for the beef sector, and in the livestock sector, including beef in hill farming areas, there is a considerable improvement in confidence. I intend to hold on to what I achieved in Brussels for the beef régime.

Mr. Hardy

Far from the September livestock figures being unsatisfactory, does not my right hon. Friend agree that the pig breeding herd is substantially larger than it was a year ago—by 14,000 animals—and is not that evidence that he is pursuing his policy as effectively as possible?

Mr. Peart

I am grateful for my hon. Friend's reference to the pig breeding herd as another example of confidence returning. The same also applies in the cereals sector. There are still great problems of inflation, which affect not only the farming community but all sectors. I am anxious that the Price Review determinations and what I achieve at the negotiations in Brussels will help the farming community.

Mr. Jopling

I accept that things are not so bad as they were. However, will the Minister please stop describing as gloom merchants those who refer to his figures showing that agricultural production is likely to be severely reduced this year? Does the right hon. Gentleman recall that the target contained in the White Paper is a 3 per cent. expansion in the five years to 1980? Is it not likely that this year's overall production will be 7 per cent. down rather than 3 per cent. up, and, therefore, that for the re- maining four years we shall have to expand at the rate of 5½ per cent. rather than 3 per cent.? Will the Minister make sure that that rate of expansion is achieved?

Mr. Peart

That figure was not a target: it was an objective. I cannot be specific each year about the annual rate of production. All I am saying is that there has been a period of retrenchment in the industry over this year, but in certain key commodities there has been an improvement. Milk production will be greater than it was last year.