HC Deb 20 March 1975 vol 888 cc1850-1
03. Mr. Charles Morrison

asked the Prime Minister if he is satisfied with the co-ordination about the availability and cost of food as between the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and the Secretary of State for Prices and Consumer Protection.

The Prime Minister

Yes, Sir.

Mr. Morrison

Is the Prime Minister satisfied by the trend of falling agricultural production, which is continuing and increasing? Is the Secretary of State for Prices and Consumer Protection satisfied by it, bearing in mind that it is almost certain to bring about a considerable increase in food prices?

The Prime Minister

When I came into the House a little late today I heard my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food dealing with that very question. There can be many arguments—I heard them when I came in about whether the previous Government or the present Government are responsible. Those are fair arguments across the Floor of the House. But I agree with the hon. Gentleman that nothing could do more to help our balance of payments in the short run, as well as help the economy in other ways, than a substantial increase in agricultural production. I ask the House to await my right hon. Friend's White Paper on agriculture after Easter.

Mr. Ioan Evans

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the Government's food subsidies policy has worked and that according to a recent Reuters survey the prices of butter, bread, cheese and milk in this country are half what they are in Bonn and Paris? Will he see that we get out of the Market or change the common agricultural policy?

The Prime Minister

I seem to remember that the figures I have seen confirm something of what my hon. Friend has said, but I do not draw the same conclusion from them as he does. Certainly the retail food index is about 7p in the pound lower and the retail price index is about 1½ points lower than they would be if we had not introduced food subsidies, to say nothing of changing many other policies of the previous Government.

Mr. Watt

Have the Government recently examined the age structure of British agriculture? Will they note the serious situation which is arising because many farmers and workers are becoming old and the recruitment rate is not sufficient?

The Prime Minister

I think that my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agricultre, Fisheries and Food is well aware of those problems. They go back a long way into history, over successive Governments. The hon. Gentleman will be well advised to await my right hon. Friend's proposals to produce a healthier and more rapidly expanding agriculture.

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