HC Deb 26 February 1976 vol 906 cc603-6
6. Mr. Michael Latham

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what is the current extent of agricultural self-sufficiency in Great Britain; and what were the equivalent figures for this time last year.

Mr. Bishop

Home agriculture and fisheries contributed 55 per cent. to the United Kingdom's total food requirements in 1973–74, the latest year for which aggregate figures are available. The contribution in 1972–73 was also about 55 per cent.

Mr. Latham

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that last year we imported £1,850 million worth of food that we could have grown ourselves? Is there not an urgent need to reduce that figure? Is not that objective made much more difficult by provisions such as the capital transfer tax, which is very destructive of agriculture?

Mr. Bishop

The hon. Gentleman should not be unaware that in the past 10 years the amount that we have grown ourselves has increased from 51 per cent. to 55 per cent. The position is that 45 per cent. of the food we import cannot be grown in the United Kingdom for climatic reasons. During the two past years or so when we have been responsible for agriculture, my right hon. Friend has brought forward various packages and changes in the green pound, all of which have helped to add to the confidence of the industry.

Mr. Roderick

Does my hon. Friend agree that we shall have a tremendous slump in the production of poultry unless we seek permanent exemption from EEC Directive 118 on the conditions of slaughter?

Mr. Bishop

These matters are under review by the Ministry in consultation with the Community.

Sir David Renton

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the world population is growing much faster than world food supplies and that that looks like being the pattern for many years to come? As a result, we shall not be able to import the same proportion of food. Will the hon. Gentleman and the Government concentrate on expanding home food production?

Mr. Bishop

It is not hard to conceive a population explosion taking place, but the fact remains that in the White Paper we forecast that by the 1980s we shall be saving approximately £500 milion a year on imports. Over a period of years the sort of saving envisaged in the White Paper will be realised because of various steps that my right hon. Friend has taken.

Mr. Spearing

Is not one of the problems of increasing our sugar self-sufficiency that we occasionally have bad weather? If we are to accept the advice of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and live in reality, would it not be a good thing to maintain reasonable quantities of imported cane sugar?

Mr. Bishop

My hon. Friend will be aware that in the White Paper we aim to achieve 50 per cent. sugar self-sufficiency by the 1980s I am aware of the concern of my hon. Friend and others about the sugar situation. The important things is to have security of sugar supplies, and then to have regard to the need to have sugar in the form that we want it—for example, cane sugar for refining in this country. My hon. Friend will be aware of the steps in the past year or so to try to satisfy the needs of the consumer and the interests of workers at the same time.

Mr. Crawford

If we add Scottish fish landings to Scottish agricultural produce is not Scotland self-supporting in food?

Mr. Bishop

As Scotland is still a part of the United Kingdom, it still receives the benefits of the policy that the Government have pursued over the past few years.

Mr. Peter Mills

Will the hon. Gentleman now admit that we are in a ridiculous position with agricultural production falling and the balance-of-payments gap widening? Is it not time that long-term confidence was given to British agriculture so that we can achieve greater self-sufficiency?

Mr. Bishop

I wish that the Opposition would not continue to make their gloomy forecasts about the future of agriculture. There is the possibility of a record peacetime harvest of wheat. The pig herd is expanding and there is confidence in the dairy industry. Not so long ago the hon. Member for Devon, West (Mr. Mills) and his hon. Friends were forecasting the rationing of milk by Christmas 1975.