HC Deb 31 July 1975 vol 896 cc2026-9
4. Mr. Freud

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what progress has been achieved in increased home food production since publication of the White Paper "Food from Our Own Resources".

17. Mr. Hicks

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will lay down a timetable to facilitate the implementation of the White Paper "Food from Our Own Resources".

21. Mr. Cope

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food when he expects to be able to announce the results of his discussions with the NFU on how to achieve the aims set out in the Government White Paper, "Food from Our Own Resources", and if he will publish those results.

34. Mr. Hooson

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food when he intends to follow up his White Paper on "Food from Our Own Resources" with detailed and long-term plans for increased production in each section of the agricultural industry, where this is desirable.

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

The White Paper "Food from Our Own Resources" established guidelines for agriculture and agricultural policy into the 1980s. The discussions initiated in May following the publication of the White Paper are continuing. In the meanwhile, I announced last week measures which are expected to increase producers' returns in a full year by over £100 million. I shall continue to keep the situation under review and shall make further statements as the need arises.

Mr. Freud

I am grateful to the Minister for that reply, but is he aware that farmers in the Isle of Ely, and probably everywhere else, are less interested in White Papers and more interested in some guarantee of profitable trading? Is he aware of the appalling difficulties of the farming community in raising capital, as a result of the lack of confidence? Is he further aware that it is impossible to expand without capital? What does he intend to do about that?

Mr. Peart

What we intend to do is set out in my White Paper. Resources will inevitably have to come from the market. I went to Brussels the other week and secured a change in the representative rate, which means over £100 million for producers at this time. The hon. Member must realise that the country is facing difficult economic circumstances, and what I secured in Brussels amounts to substantial action to help British farmers' returns. This was a mid-term increase in common support prices and in the milk guarantee. I made it quite clear that we shall pursue the long-term objectives of British agriculture as set out in the White Paper. I recognise the difficulties, but we shall not go back on what we have said.

Mr. Corbett

In order to help farmers to meet the objectives of the White Paper, will my right hon. Friend consider cutting down losses through animal diseases by increasing the number of vets in the State Veterinary Service, and will he give us his views on the Swann Report on this subject?

Mr. Peart

I have announced the publication of the Swann Report and I hope that hon. Members will study it carefully. I agree with my hon. Friend. When I took over as the Minister morale in the service was not good. I believe that there has now been an improvement—it is no good the hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare (Mr. Wiggin) smiling, and deriding what I say. He cannot deny that there has been a tremendous change of morale in the profession. It has had a good pay award, and there has been a 6 per cent. increase in staff—

Mr. Wiggin

Only 6 per cent.?

Mr. Peart

The Conservative Government did nothing.

Mr. Hicks

Does the Minister not agree that increased gross returns are not the same as increased profitability, and it is increased profitability that the industry requires? How will the Minister set about achieving that?

Mr. Peart

As I have said, the change in the representative rate amounts to 5 per cent., across the board. In the current difficult circumstances, I think that that is a reasonably fair balance between the needs of the producers and the needs of the consumer.

Mr. Madden

Does the Secretary of State agree that hill farmers have a contribution to make, and have particular problems? Will he tell us what priorities and plans for assistance he has in mind for Britain's hill farmers?

Mr. Peart

I agree with my hon. Friend—as Minister of Agriculture, not as Secretary of State—that the hill farming sector must be helped. I represent a hill farming area. In the last award I gave the hill farming sector priority. Only this morning I discussed with the industry problems affecting the hill areas and the various hill subsidies that we have given.

Mr. Cope

The Minister spoke, as indeed the White Paper speaks, of increased milk production. Is the Minister still as complacent as he seemed last time we had Questions on agriculture, about the possibility of having to import liquid milk this winter? If liquid milk does have to be imported this winter, will the Minister resign?

Mr. Peart

I am never complacent, and I have no intention of resigning. The White Paper is a good paper, and I hope that all hon. Members will support it.

Mr. Watt

Will the Minister tell us how he expects to achieve increased milk production when the number of cows is falling at the rate of 3 per cent. a year? Further, will he estimate how many dairy farmers will go out of production if tied cottages are abolished? Does he realise that unless dairy farmers in Britain receive 40p a gallon for their milk this winter, many more will go out of production?

Mr. Peart

Before I became Minister there was a scheme to enable people to switch from the dairy industry to the beef sector. I recognise that there is a serious problem in the dairy industry. That is why I was glad to have this interim award, which will help the industry.

Mr. Spearing

The Minister has said that there is a problem in the dairy sector. Does he not agree that there is a conflict between the objectives of "Food from Our Own Resources" and the recent common agricultural stocktaking document? Will he undertake to ensure that the policies in the stocktaking document, for reducing the production of liquid milk, will not apply to the United Kingdom?

Mr. Peart

I have said over and over again in this House, in reply to Questions, that there is no conflict between our interests and what is mentioned in the Community's stock-taking document. Basically, it states that production should be encouraged in the areas where it is most efficient. Our industry is extremely efficient and, therefore, I have made our position clear in the Community.