HC Deb 19 December 1985 vol 89 cc553-5
4. Mr. McQuarrie

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will propose to the European Economic Community that surplus cereals in intervention should be released for use as feed by farmers who have been adversely affected by the severe weather crisis.

Mr. Gummer

Feed grain in intervention stores in Great Britain is available for sale on the home market at the intervention price. There is little demand at present, as supplies from the open market are cheaper. In addition, measures have already been adopted to make intervention feed wheat from stores in Great Britain available in Northern Ireland.

Mr. McQuarrie

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that reply. Does he accept that the feed grain which was given to Northern Ireland was given at a reduced price? In view of the information that he conveyed to my hon. Friend the Member for Wells (Mr. Heathcoat-Amory) in an earlier question, does he agree that all farmers who suffer severely from the winter weather crisis should be entitled to the same consideration, whether in Scotland, England or Northern Ireland?

Mr. Gummer

I am sure my hon. Friend will agree that it is reasonable for people to be able to get the feed wheat at least at the same price in various parts of the country. We needed to transfer the wheat to Northern Ireland, and there were special reasons why it had to be done from the rest of the United Kingdom intervention stores. As for that being part of weather aid, it was considered, and I think in general the agricultural community agrees that it was right to provide that aid in other ways. A certain amount of money was available and we used it in other ways, but we do not believe that in Scotland that would have been the best way to help those worst hit by the bad weather.

Mr. Pike

At the end of November over 29 per cent. of the intervention stock of cereals had been held for over a year. Is it not time that we had action rather than words from the Government to deal with that problem in view of the cost that the Minister gave in reply to an earlier question.

Mr. Gummer

Of course it is time that we stopped over-production of cereals. That is why the Government have fought hard for a system that is based upon price restraint and ensures that in the future we do not produce too much. We have passed through a period in which shortage has been the main problem. We have moved into a period in which we are producing too much, and in those circumstances the whole system of agricultural support must be turned to deal with the new situation of plenty.

Sir Hector Monro

Does my right hon. Friend accept that there has been a warm welcome in Scotland and the north of England for the help that he has been able to give farmers who have been affected by the extremely bad weather? Nevertheless, referring to the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. McQuarrie), it would be of additional assistance if my right hon. Friend could give some intervention grain for feed mixtures until the spring. It could be helpful for livestock producers.

Mr. Gummer

I am most grateful to my hon. Friend for making the point about the great welcome that has been given to that package. It has been widely accepted as especially good in view of Government restraint on expenditure. It is unlikely that that package will be extended, although, of course, I shall carefully consider what he said.

5. Mr. Home Robertson

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what acreage of barley and wheat has been sown this winter.

Mr. Gummer

This information will not be available until about March, when the results of the December agricultural census will be published.

Mr. Home Robertson

Is the Minister aware that the substantial areas that have already been planted will add to the cereal mountain next summer? As 29 per cent. of the cereal in intervention stores has been there for more than 12 months, as my hon. Friend the Member for Burnley (Mr. Pike) said, does the Minister recognise the complete inadequacy of his proposals and those of the European Commission to deal with the matter? What is his response to the Labour party's demand for incentives for alternative land uses coupled, if necessary, with a quota scheme for cereals?

Mr. Gummer

It is odd that the hon. Gentleman should suggest that his party has any answer to that problem, because we are now in a world in which technological advance has meant considerable increases in what we can produce. We should start by saying, thank God that we are in the business of dealing with plenty rather than shortage. The answer must be a Community answer. The Commission has put before us proposals about which we have considerable doubts. We are seeking a price restraint system which will ensure that we do not produce too much. The hon. Gentleman may push his hand like that, but if we have too high a price we shall go on producing too much.

Mr. Ralph Howell

Does my right hon. Friend accept that he must find an answer to this problem? If he will not accept quotas, will he accept production control? Does he agree that every other industry has to accept such control? It is time that the Government recognised that cutting prices will not solve the problem; it will aggravate it. We must alter our stance and have production control in cereals.

Mr. Gummer

My hon. Friend and I have argued about this matter before. I am aware that we do not agree. Until we have a package in which price is the basic way in which we reduce production—

Mr. Howell

No. Nonsense.

Mr. Gummer

—we shall not have a package at all.

Mr. Skinner

Give it to him.

Mr. Gummer

It is all right for Labour Members to say, "Give it to him," to my hon. Friends, but at least my hon. Friends are arguing about something for which they care, which is more than the Opposition do.

Mr. Deakins

What estimates has the Minister made of the impact on British cereal production in the current year of the Commission's cut in cereal prices in that year?

Mr. Gummer

There has been a net cut of about 3.5 per cent. in the price of cereals. We cannot dissociate that from any other element which has affected production this year. I am sure that had the price continued to increase production would have increased even more than it has.

Mr. Douglas Hogg

Does my right hon. Friend accept that many involved in the industry feel that if a prudent price policy is to be effective the cuts must be dramatic? That being so, there is a move within the industry to support acreage quotas. What is his view on that?

Mr. Gummer

I am sure that my hon. Friend is correct and that the industry is moving towards a mixture of price and some kind of quota system. I hope that the industry considers carefully how such a system would be policed and organised and whether it would not, perhaps, result in a kind of sterilisation of the industry which neither he nor any of my other hon. Friends would like.