HC Deb 19 March 1981 vol 1 cc418-20
10. Mr. Temple-Morris

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he is now in a position to make a statement on the outcome of the European Economic Community price review.

Mr. Peter Walker

Last week, in the Council of Ministers, the Commission's proposals on farm prices were discussed and views were put by each member country. The main discussions will take place at the beginning of April. I hope that before then we shall have a debate in the House.

Mr. Temple-Morris

Is my right hon. Friend aware that he has much support in the attempt to restore prices to a realistic level for the British farmer? Will he communicate to his Treasury colleagues the necessity of looking after the countryside, which just about still supports the Conservative Party?

Mr. Walker

On farm prices and the green pound, the Government are determined to see that the position of British agriculture is protected in the current negotiations. We must also, naturally, have a degree of interest in the impact of the common agricultural policy as a whole and the cost of the budget. assure my hon. Friend that it is the intention of the Government to see that British agriculture continues to prosper.

Mr. Torney

In his discussions on the price review, will the Minister bear in mind the serious condition of the British poultry industry and its need to achieve some advantage from the review? This industry used to provide a great deal more employment than the glasshouse and fishing industries, which, under the right hon. Gentleman's control, are now in dire straits. There is considerable unemployment in the poultry industry, with a number of bankruptcies looming up. Will the right hon. Gentleman take the opportunity of the price review to remedy the situation?

Mr. Walker

I welcome the hon. Gentleman's interest in employment in the poultry industry. I wish that a similar interest could be shown by the party of which he is a member, instead of its making constant demands for large green pound revaluations, which would do great damage to British agriculture.

Mr. Peter Mills

Will my right hon. Friend remain firm in his view that there should be no revaluation of the green pound and that there should be a fair return for British producers? More importantly perhaps, will he try to prise open the mind of the Shadow Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, so that we know exactly where the Opposition stand? Rumours are circulating that the Opposition want a revaluation of the green pound and no increase in prices to the farmers, which would be disastrous for the producer, the consumer and those who work in the meat plants.

Mr. Walker

I find it extraordinary that when farm incomes, in real terms, have gone down by 24 per cent. a major political party should advocate that they should be reduced still further. The position of the Opposition will perhaps be revealed in next week's debate.

Mr. Mason

On the basis of a positive MCA of about 18 per cent., are we not denying our consumers cheaper food and, at the same time, swelling our contribution to the Common Marker budget? Based on a positive MCA of 18 per cent., are we not granting £500 million or £600 million a year to our farmers' incomes? On that basis, is the right hon. Gentleman saying that under no circumstances, in the present review, will he agree to a revaluation of the green pound?

Mr. Walker

I say clearly to the right hon. Gentleman that in the period when the Labour Government had negative MCAs of between 24 and 45 per cent. food prices in this country went up twice as fast as they have under this Government. Secondly, I am saying that the positive MCAs do not improve farm prices at the farm gate in this country. What the right hon. Gentleman seemingly advocates is that they should be reduced still further. That is a dangerous policy to pursue.

Mr. Mason

Is the Minister saying that under no circumstances, in the forthcoming agricultural price review, will he agree to any percentage revaluation of the green pound?

Mr. Walker

I am saying categorically that, on the Commission's proposals for the coming price review and its suggested increases, there will be no revaluation of the green pound.

Mrs. Kellett-Bowman

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the Agriculture Committee of the European Parliament was right yesterday to emphasise the need to discourage the production of commodities in surplus and to encourage those that are not in surplus? Will he accept that I am delighted to hear him turn down suggestions for a green pound revaluation which would not help British housewives in regard to prices, and which would be damaging to our farmers?

Mr. Walker

I appreciate what my hon. Friend says. I recognise the immense damage done to British agriculture, food manufacturers and food processors by the appalling policy of the previous Government of having negative MCAs.

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