HC Deb 15 March 1979 vol 964 cc688-9
12. Mr. Bulmer

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food whether he has any plans to meet the general secretary of the National Union of Agricultural and Allied Workers.

Mr. John Silkin

I meet the general secretary frequently, but I have no specific plans for a meeting at present.

Mr. Bulmer

Since the Government have made it clear that they are against any general increase in farm prices, and since the majority of farmers may expect a continuing erosion of their returns, does the right hon. Gentleman accept that at the present time farming confidence is not good? Will he therefore meet the agriculture workers' union and, indeed, colleagues in his own party to discuss the wisdom of pressing for such measures as the rating of agriculture land, a wealth tax and even the nationalisation of land, which can only further undermine farmers' confidence, and with it job prospects in the industry?

Mr. Silkin

I know that farmers' confidence is a fragile thing, but the reality is very different from what the hon. Gentleman is implying. This has been a record period for British farming. We intend to see that it continues to be so.

Mr. Dykes

Will the Minister meet the general secretary as soon as possible, to keep everything in perspective? He will have support for dealing with agricultural surpluses in the CAP, but he should remind the general secretary, as soon as possible, that although food prices have doubled in the last four years under the Labour Government, only 10 per cent. of that has been directly due to the CAP. That has been publicly admitted by Labour Ministers.

Mr. Silkin

I think that the general secretary would be interested were I to put that point of view to him. But he might also put to me the point that we were talking about the usual and most expensive forms of food.

Mr. Heffer

Will my right hon. Friend draw the attention of the Opposition to the fact that at one stage after the war, following Tom Williams, we had a fine system of support but it was destroyed? If we were sensible, we would get back to that system. It would enable farm workers to get a decent wage and farmers a good return.

Mr. Silkin

I do not accept that the farming industry, as at present constituted, cannot afford to pay a decent wage to farm workers. I have said before, and repeat to the House now that the trouble is that the workers are employed in a dispersed industry. There is no doubt that good farm gate negotiation should result in a decent wage for farm workers.

Mr. Jopling

Will the Minister acknowledge, in response to the suggestion by his hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer), that a return to the old system of support would probably cost the taxpayers of this country around an extra £1,000 million a year?

Mr. Silkin

That, of course, would be on the basis that we were still paying for the disposal, storage and export of goods in surplus. To put the matter into total perspective, the farm budget at present runs at £6½ billion a year. Of that £6—billion, 75 per cent. is spent either on export restitutions, storage or disposal.

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