HC Deb 10 June 1976 vol 912 cc1648-50
4. Mr. David Walder

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what was the difference last year between the target for agricultural expansion indicated by the Government's White Paper "Food from Our Own Resources" and the percentage change in production actually achieved.

Mr. Peart

I would refer the hon. Gentleman to the reply I gave the hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr. Crouch) on 25th March.

Mr. Walder

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for that illuminating response, but I remind him that the Government's White Paper promised a modest increase of 2½ per cent. almost 12 months ago. Is he not aware that the volume of production has fallen by 14 per cent., which is, I think, the largest percentage fall in agricultural production for some time, going back to the Second World War?

Mr. Peart

The hon. Gentleman knows only too well—in fact, he has quoted from "Food from Our Own Resources" —that the projections in the White Paper were not, for obvious reasons, a fixed set of production targets. I believe that the price review which we negotiated in Brussels and here with our farmers has restored a measure of confidence in the industry.

Mr. Hardy

Is it not the case that conditions are now set very fair for farming and that we can look for considerable expansion of agricultural production? Does my right hon. Friend agree that the national interest would be served if Conservative Members recognised that and encouraged the increase that we need?

Mr. Peart

I am grateful for my hon. Friend's support. The hon. Member for Clitheroe (Mr. Walder), who was a junior Minister, knows that I did a good deal for the farmers in the Brussels negotiations.

Mr. Pym

The right hon. Gentleman thinks that production will expand in 1976, and he knows very well that my right hon. and hon. Friends are fully in support of an expansionist policy, but expansion did not happen last year. Now that the pound has fallen so low, is it not vital that every effort should be made to increase the volume of home-grown food even more than the Minister proposed over a year ago?

Mr. Peart

I am anxious to get home production going. In fact, this is happening. However, I cannot forecast, for example, precise weather conditions. The right hon. Gentleman, as a farmer, must know that better than I do.

Mr. Watt

Does not the right hon. Gentleman agree that it is grossly unfair to compare a year such as last year with this year, last year having been a year of panic and this year being a year of super-confidence in the agricultural industry? Will the right hon. Gentleman give further confidence to the agriculture industry by indicating whether he has contingency plans ready should the common agricultural policy collapse during the next year?

Mr. Peart

I think that the hon. Gentleman is exaggerating. People criticise the CAP, but I believe that it has given us some benefits.

Mr. Torney

Let us hope that it collapses soon.

Mr. Raphael Tuck

My right hon. Friend has not yet said what we are going to do about the butter mountain which is now rearing its ugly head as a result of intervention buying.

Mr. Peart

There is no mountain of butter in this country.

Sir J. Langford-Holt

The right hon. Gentleman took 25 or 26 words in not answering the Question of my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury (Mr. Crouch). Would it not have been much more satisfactory if he had given a direct answer to the Question which required only two figures?

Mr. Peart

I gave an answer to the hon. Member for Canterbury. I do not want to repeat all my answers, even though they are very good answers.

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