HC Deb 29 March 1976 vol 908 cc872-4
6. Mr. Gwynfor Evans

asked the Secretary of State for Wales if he is satisfied with the return Welsh farmers get for their labour.

The Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. John Morris)

I am aware that dairy and livestock farmers in Wales as elsewhere in the United Kingdom have had difficult years in 1973–74 and 1974–75. But I am confident that their returns in 1975–76 will show a marked recovery as a result of Government measures on milk prices and the beef régime. Decisions taken in the 1976 annual review and CAP price fixing can be expected to consolidate and improve the situation further.

Mr. Evans

Is the Secretary of State aware that in 1975 farmers' income fell in England by 10 per cent. and in Wales by a punishing 32 per cent., and that agriculture in this way exemplifies the failure of central and centralist Government in those fields for which they are responsible, such as roads, housing and employment? Will the Minister admit that the situation in Wales is continually worse than it is in England?

Mr. Morris

No, certainly not. I should want to examine the hon. Gentleman's figures, but I have confirmed that 1973–74 and 1974–75 were difficult years. However, there has been a marked improvement. As anyone who has been to our markets recently has seen, there was a dramatic increase in milk production in the autumn and beef prices, particularly since the new scheme introduced by the Government, have been stabilised, and this was welcomed throughout the industry.

Mr. Roderick

Does my right hon. and learned Friend appreciate that we welcome the better prices to be provided for farmers this year, but we view with alarm reports we read in the Press to the effect that we may be starting our first beef mountain? When may we expect a fundamental review of the CAP?

Mr. Morris

My right hon. Friend has made proposals and has taken part in the discussions in Brussels, and I have been there myself to add whatever weight I have to strengthen my right hon. Friend's representations. I can assure my hon. Friend that throughout the industry there has been a welcome of the Government's proposals and of the CAP on this point.

Mr. Hooson

The right hon. and learned Gentleman is undoubtedly right in saying that prospects in agriculture this year are very different from what they have been over the past two or three years. Anybody who does not acknowledge that is not looking at reality. Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman agree that the real fears in Wales are about the long term, that there is so much now in agriculture that is cyclical, and that the CAP tends to contribute to the cyclical process? What prospects are there of amending the CAP? Did he come from Brussels, after trying to reinforce his right hon. Friend's efforts, with confidence that there was a real chance of changing the system?

Mr. Morris

I am sure that there is a great deal to be done. Everyone is anxious to ensure that there is the best possible system of organising a just system of agricultural prices—just to the producer and just to the consumer. I would be the first to concede that there is a good deal of work to be done. At the negotiations I was concerned to ensure that there was a proper return for Welsh farmers. The way that the last announcement has been welcomed is an indication that those who understand what is happening today in Welsh agriculture believe that there will be such a proper return, and this is confirmed by the hon. and learned Gentleman's views.