HC Deb 12 March 1981 vol 1000 c988
3. Mr. Wm. Ross

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland when he next expects to meet the leaders of the Ulster Farmers Union.

Mr. Humphrey Atkins

In the near future, but a precise date has not yet been arranged.

Mr. Ross

When the Secretary of State meets leaders of the UFU will he assure them that he repudiates the view put forward by Mr. O'Kennedy on his recent visit to the effect that the importation of feed grains is bad for Northern Ireland? Will the Secretary of State also give the UFU a date for the extension of the less-favoured areas and assure farmers that something will be done to help their financial position in the coming financial year, if not in the current financial year?

Mr. Atkins

The Government fully recognise the difficulties of farmers in Northern Ireland. It is our belief that we shall be able to put forward, as the United Kingdom, a proposition on less-favoured areas to the European Commission later this year.

Mr. Kilfedder

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the aggregate income of Northern Ireland farmers declined by 60 per cent, last year and by 48 per cent, in the previous year? Does not that represent a crisis for agriculture in Northern Ireland which demands urgent action by the Government?

Mr. Atkins

I do not dispute the hon. Gentleman's figures. I am urgently considering what we can do.

Mr. Pendry

Would the Secretary of State be surprised if Ulster farmers never wanted to meet him again, following his unfulfilled promises made at a previous meeting? Does he recognise that the farmers of Northern Ireland are going through a crisis period? They want help to reduce the high cost of feedstuffs, improved grazing stocks, a reintroduction of the milk aid and an extension of less-favoured areas. Unless help is forthcoming and soon, the militancy of the Northern Ireland farmers leaders will make Arthur Scargill appear like a member of the Social Democratic Alliance.

Mr. Atkins

I am not sure whether that is meant to be a threat. My understanding of the position of the leaders of the UFU is that they represent people who have a serious problem, which they know that the Government recognise. I am happy to say that they are prepared to meet me to discuss how we can go forward. That is much the best way.

Mr. Speaker

Order. I must appeal to hon. Members not to argue a case but to ask questions.