HC Deb 28 July 1983 vol 46 cc1316-7
5. Mr. Jackson

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if it is the policy of Her Majesty's Government to pursue the continued expansion of agricultural net product in the United Kingdom.

Mr. Jopling

The Government aim to provide conditions in which our agriculture can make the maximum contribution to the national economy, while taking into account the interests of consumers and taxpayers.

Mr. Jackson

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the future of British farming output depends on the future common agricultural policy? In the forthcoming negotiations on the reform of the CAP, will he retain the objectives set by the right hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Mr. Silkin) during the previous Labour Government to increase agricultural net output in the United Kingdom?

Mr. Jopling

The Government are committed to tackling the problem of surpluses in the Community within the framework of the CAP, but it would be wrong for the Government to seek artificially to restrict efficient United Kingdom farm production, particularly as we are still less than self-sufficient in most temperate products.

Mr. Ron Davies

In view of the Minister's commitment to ensure the maintenance of production, will he express his disappointment at the Milk Marketing Board's decision to close the creamery at Newcastle Emlyn? Is he aware that the board's decision was taken without consultation with the local rural interests? Will he now make representations to the board to review its policy to close that creamery until further consultations with local interests have taken place?

Mr. Jopling

It is important that no Minister should interfere with the commercial decisions of organisations such as the Milk Marketing Board, which has been hugely successful over the years in looking after the interests of producers and consumers of British milk and milk products. I shall certainly look at the case that the hon. Gentleman has drawn to my attention, but I am not prepared to promise to take steps to interfere with the board's commercial decisions.

Mr. Fallon

Has my right hon. Friend read the reports today of the continued expansion of agricultural net production of the Italian olive oil industry? Will he take steps to ensure that we cease paying for it?

Mr. Jopling

There have been several discussions about the problems of the olive oil industry in the two meetings of the Agriculture Council that I have attended since the general election, particularly in view of the extension of the Community to include Spain and Portugal. Those matters are very much under review. I am well aware of the reports that appeared in the press this morning and I assure my hon. Friend that we shall be looking into them.

Mr. Campbell-Savours

Would not United Kingdom agricultural production be much expanded if the Government were to implement the most recent recommendations under the EC's less favoured area directives? Is it not true that there are 68 parishes in the county of Cumbria, many of which fall within the constituencies of the Secretary of State and myself, which have been allocated that new status by the EC and yet the Government refuse to cough up the cash to ensure that farmers there get money which they deserve and which has been allocated to them in principle by the EC?

Mr. Jopling

I suspect that the hon. Gentleman knows a little more about Cumbria than he does about the rules of the Community. I think that he is talking about the proposal to extend the areas that qualify for grant in marginal areas beyond the hill areas. That proposal has not been endorsed by the Community. It is still under consideration and we are expecting to have a decision from the Commission and the Council by September or October. We shall then have to look at that scheme to see whether we can find the cash to implement it. I am not sure whether that will be available.

Mr. Buchan

Does the Minister accept that while the British people are not averse to paying for proper support for an improvement in Britain's agricultural output, they are loth to spend the kind of money that they are asked for just to pile up surpluses in Europe? Will he assure the House that any measures that the CAP takes to deal with those surpluses will not be made by cutting back on subsidised food prices in Britain and that they will not discriminate unfairly against efficient British producers? Does he accept that the British people also strongly resent this kind of money being used to subsidise food abroad and to maintain food prices at home? To destroy about 300,000 tonnes of fresh fruit and vegetables goes very much against the grain for the British people.

Mr. Jopling

The hon. Gentleman has asked several questions. He seems to have forgotten that during the period in which the Labour Government were in office prices of agricultural produce rose a great deal faster than they have under my Government. Since the Government came to power prices agreed by the Community have risen more slowly than inflation. Nobody likes to see excessive food surpluses being created and even less to see them having to be destroyed or disposed of. The review of the CAP will attempt to deal with such problems.