HC Deb 16 January 1978 vol 942 cc15-7
13. Mr. Nicholas Edwards

asked the Secretary of State for Wales if he is satisfied with the present condition of Welsh agriculture.

Mr. John Morris

Last week's Annual Review White Paper shows that the industry generally made a dramatic recovery from the setbacks caused by the adverse weather conditions of 1975 and 1976 and that it is overall in good health.

Milk, sheep and arable crop production did well in Wales in 1977, but I recognise there is some concern about the weakness of the beef market.

Mr. Edwards

Is the right hon. and learned Gentleman aware that there will be astonishment among Welsh farmers at the complacency shown in his reply? Is he also aware of the grave damage done to Welsh farmers by the green pound distortion? Surely it cannot be in the long-term interests of consumers that our agriculture industry should have to labour under this unique handicap, and that what was intended to be a temporary protection against exchange rate fluctuation should be used as a long-term means of subsidising both consumers and foreign food imports at the expense of Welsh—and British—farmers.

Mr. Morris

The hon. Gentleman used the word "astonishment". I presume that he couples himself with that expression regarding Welsh farmers. On that basis, it is obvious that he has not done his homework. He must do it a little better. He will find in the increases in the average weighted net income for Wales, published for last year, that the figures for Wales are significantly and substantially higher than they are for England. When one adds up the totality of increase for England, one finds that it is plus 4 per cent. net income, but for Wales it is plus 28 per cent. I invite the hon. Gentleman to read the document published last year.

Of course, there is concern about the green pound. We have always said that we have no objection in principle to a change in the value of the green pound. If I recall aright, we have changed it on five previous occasions, and there has been at least a 21 per cent. change over the last four years. It is a question of when and to what amount, and of bearing in mind the interests of the whole British public.

Mr. Hooson

Is the Secretary of State aware that it is a widespread view among farmers in Wales that the Conservatives are always much more concerned about agriculture when they are in Opposition than when they are in Government? Having said that, however, is not the right hon. and learned Gentleman aware that there is an equally widely held view among Welsh farmers at present that the devaluation of the green pound is now long overdue? May we take it that the right hon. and learned Gentleman is exercising all the influence that he can in the Cabinet to bring that about?

Mr. Morris

The hon. and learned Gentleman has put his finger on the attitude of Conservative spokesmen. I recall fairly fierce contests when the Conservatives announced some of their miserable Price Review determinations. However, what I have said is that it should be right and proper for the hon. Member for Pembroke (Mr. Edwards), if he sets himself up as Opposition spokesman on Welsh agriculture, to have regard to what has been happening. I invite him to look at the White Paper published last year and each sector—specialist dairy, mainly dairy, and, dare I mention the word, sheep. I invite him to look at the totality to see how the general agriculture situation stands.

As regards the green pound, I am fully aware of the concern and so is my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture.

Sir A. Meyer

Can the Secretary of State give any estimate of the number of independent producer-retailers of milk who are likely to be forced out of business in 1980 by the ban on the sale of untreated milk, the treatment of which they will not be able to afford?

Mr. Morris

I do not have such an estimate. We are looking at this point. I am aware of the concern. Only last Friday I met a delegation from the Farmers' Union of Wales which also expressed concern about that.