HC Deb 24 February 1982 vol 18 cc852-3
12. Mr. Pollock

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland whether he is satisfied with the current state of Scottish agriculture; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Younger

The facts are fully set out in the White Paper "Annual Review of Agriculture 1982", Cmnd. 8491, published on 17 February. There are encouraging signs of improvement in farming income from last year's very low figure, though I remain very concerned about the level of borrowing and the drop in investment.

Mr. Pollock

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that he is aware of the great concern in Scottish farming about the proposal for a possible revaluation of the green pound during the forthcoming European price review? Can he assure us that he will do everything in his power to withstand any such proposal?

Mr. Younger

I fully appreciate my hon. Friend's point. It is an early stage of the CAP negotiations, but my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food made our position clear in the opening stages of negotiation and rejected the Commission's proposal for a revaluation of the green pound.

Mr. Strang

Is the Secretary of State aware that the massive and unprecedented slump in investment in tractors and other equipment by agriculture in Scotland is a direct cause of the loss of thousands of jobs in the British engineering industry? Will the Government take a leaf out of the book of the French Socialist Government and introduce national aids to support our agriculture?

Mr. Younger

I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman seems to be suffering from a touch of amnesia. He should remember that the main reason for the disastrous state of investment in the agriculture industry was the persistent refusal of the previous Government to allow the green pound to devalue to a reasonable level which would give a fair deal to our farmers. If he does not realise that, I assure him that all our farmers do.

Sir Russell Fairgrieve

Does my right hon. Friend accept that in recent years the percentage return on capital investment in agriculture has been falling? If so, will he do what he can with his right hon. Friends in the Government to change that state of affairs?

Mr. Younger

I share my hon. Friend's concern. It is a reflection of the difficult times and falling incomes that farmers have been experiencing for several years. I assure my hon. Friend that the extra aid that the Government have given to farmers has so far managed to reverse that process. We hope that argriculture can look to the future with more confidence.

Mr. O'Neill

Does the Secretary of State agree that the fall in incomes has now, in the words of the National Farmers Union, rendered them totally inadequate to stimulate investment? Further, is he aware that the incomes are now at a level below that of 1979 when the Labour Government left office? It is not good enough for him to say that investment fell under the Labour Government. Incomes were high enough to allow that investment. They are now much too low to afford it.

Mr. Younger

The hon. Gentleman has presented a completely false picture. As he should know, the Labour Government doggedly refused to give our farmers a square deal by devaluing the green pound. What is more, the Government have given far greater aid than any previous Government, especially on hill livestock compensatory amounts, the new suckler cow premium scheme and the new arrangements for the sheep meat regime, all of which have been major and favourable changes in the treatment of farming.