HC Deb 10 November 1976 vol 919 cc396-7
6. Sir John Gilmour

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland whether he is satisfied that the target for agricultural expansion in Scotland is being achieved.

The Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Hugh D. Brown)

We shall shortly be examining the economic situation and prospects of the farming industry with the National Farmers Unions during the annual review. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would not expect me to anticipate the outcome of that review.

Sir J. Gilmour

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that there are big discrepancies in the financial returns of certain sections of the industry, as exemplified by the action which had to be taken recently regarding returns for fat pigs? Does he accept that unless that is put right we cannot have a healthy agriculture industry in Scotland?

Mr. Brown

One of the fascinating things about the agriculture industry is that there are always big discrepancies. Those who produce certain crops or commodities may do well one year but not so well the next year. However, all-round prospects are good. Indeed, the economic returns to the farmers are well up on anything that they have had during the last few years.

Mr. Crawford

Does the Minister agree that one of the main reasons for lack of investment in agriculture in Scotland is uncertainty surrounding the green pound? Does he further agree that that could be overcome by the establishment of a sovereign, strong Scottish pound to which a green pound Scots would be linked and that the establishment of a strong and healthy green pound Scots would give satisfaction to agriculture interests in Scotland, both consumers and producers alike?

Mr. Brown

I have enough difficulty understanding how the green pound works, never mind the tortuous statement made by the hon. Gentleman about a mythical Scottish pound. The basic fundamental facts concerning the indicators in the industry are all favourable to the farming community. I rest my case on that.

Mr. William Hamilton

Does my hon. Friend accept that farmers in Scotland had a very successful year last year? It would be in the interests of consumers—and we on this side of the House represent them—if the Government insisted on sticking to their policy on the green pound and did not yield to the blandishments of either the National Farmers Union or the Scottish National Party, both of which are in favour of the interests of farmers and against those of consumers.

Mr. Brown

I do not entirely agree with my hon. Friend. It is true that farmers are having a very successful year in Scotland, but equally it is true that unless there are successful years the availability of food for consumers is at risk, The Government have an obligation to ensure that there are adequate food supplies. However, on the other hand, farmers cannot expect to be totally immune from the effect of inflation or from the economic problems of industry generally.

Mr. Fairgrieve

Leaving aside the infantile economic futility of a separate Scots pound, will the Minister urge his right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture to make a change quickly in the green pound instead of maintaining the 30 per cent, difference between it and the £ sterling? This difference compares with a 2 per cent, change in food prices which would result from an adjustment of the green pound.

Mr. Brown

I thought for a moment that the hon. Member was talking about me when he began his remarks. The green pound is under constant review, but we see a need to look at it in the context of the annual review, which is the most significant date in the farming calendar.