HC Deb 12 July 1979 vol 970 cc643-5
8. Mr. Temple-Morris

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food when he intends next to meet the president of the National Farmers Union.

9. Mr. Haselhurst

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food when he will meet next the president of the National Farmers Union.

Mr. Peter Walker

I meet the president of the National Farmers Union frequently, but have no specific plans at present for a further meeting.

Mr. Temple-Morris

When my right hon. Friend next meets the president, will he welcome the firm rejection by the Northfield committee of land nationalisation on agricultural grounds—something which, on successive occasions, his predecessor was never able or willing to do? Will he further consider, not necessarily following the Northfield committee's proposals on the subject, giving young people a start in farming? What is his approach to that matter?

Mr. Walker

Obviously I welcome the Northfield report. One expected that a group of people looking at the problem intelligently would conclude that the nationalisation of land was not the answer. The second part of my hon. Friend's question is a matter that we are considering. We are looking at the recommendations of the Northfield committee and having talks with the NFU and others about how we can improve the potentialities for young people entering the industry.

Mr. Haselhurst

Is my right hon. Friend confident that, in view of the recent 5 per cent. devaluation and the increase in the value of the pound, he will be able, when he next meets Mr. Butler, to establish common ground that there is a basis for a real expansion in British agricultural production?

Mr. Walker

The farming community generally has welcomed the fact that the considerable disadvantage that it worked under in recent years has been removed.

Mr. Robert Hughes

Will the right hon. Gentleman turn his mind to the problems of the pig producing industry? There has been an improvement in regard to competition, but what he tried to achieve in his last negotiations did not help the pig producing industry to the full extent. What will he do to ensure that there is parity of competition?

Mr. Walker

I know that the hon. Gentleman is concerned about this problem. I am pleased that, at least in principle, there is some agreement about the future of Lawson's. I hope that it succeeds. That agreement has been helped by the fact that we achieved a devaluation on pigmeat. The difference now in terms of MCAs is very small. I believe that the best way to try to help the industry is to do everything that we can to improve its marketing and processing side.

Sir Timothy Kitson

When my right hon. Friend meets the president of the NFU, will he discuss with him the problems and plight of the hill and upland farmers after the last severe winter, when they had severe stock losses and high costs? Will he undertake that when the June returns come in he will look at the position of those farmers yet again and discuss it with them?

Mr. Walker

Yes, Sir. I think that the position is serious. We announced last week that the additional subsidy for hill sheep proposed by my predecessor is immediately coming into operation. Beyond that, we guarantee that in October, when we know the results of the autumn sales and have had the result of the census, we shall sit down with the farming unions and agree what is required on the basis of the known facts, in order to restore herds to their former levels and see that prosperity continues in the hills.

Mr. Spearing

When the right hon. Gentleman next meets Mr. Butler, will he discuss with him the Conservative Party s commitment in its manifesto to make British farmers competitive with those in the rest of the EEC? Will he confirm to the House that since the last devaluation took British farm prices from their existing levels half the way to those in the EEC he is committed to bringing them to parity in the next devaluation or soon after, and that that would substantially increase prices in this country?

Mr. Walker

I find it remarkable that members of a party that, when it devalued by 5 per cent., made great play of the fact that that increased the retail price index by only one-fifth of 1 per cent., make such complaint about something that brings many jobs and a great deal of prosperity to British agriculture.