HC Deb 19 November 1987 vol 122 cc1193-4
10. Mr. Malcolm Bruce

To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will make a statement on the present state of the beef sector.

Mr. Donald Thompson

The market for beef cattle is reasonably firm, with prices generally above the level of last year. With the prospect of less beef from the dairy herd it is encouraging to note that the specialist beef herd had risen by 2.4 per cent. at the June census.

Mr. Bruce

I am grateful to the Minister for that information, but will he accept that there is real concern that there could be a serious beef shortage in the coming years, given the cuts resulting from the dairy quotas? Given that that is so, will the Minister press hard in the next round of negotiations to ensure that there is a substantial increase in the suckler cow premium? That premium is the best way to ensure that we get the quality beef we need, raised in the environmentally acceptable circumstances that most people want. That is what the beef farmers in the quality area that I represent are looking for.

Mr. Thompson

The premium is at 35 per cent. this year. I appreciate the hon. Gentleman's question, because a great proportion of the suckler herd is in the less-favoured areas and we need quality beef from those areas. We shall do all that we can to ensure that England and Scotland continue to provide premium beef of the highest quality.

Sir Geoffrey Johnson Smith

Does my hon. Friend accept that, unless help is given to the small dairy farmers who suffered grievously from the hurricane, there will be an even more serious knock-on effect for the beef sector, as many farmers will have to go out of business?

Mr. Thompson

The dairy and beef herd run together and one depends on the other. We have looked at all sorts of ways to help those people damaged by the hurricane and we shall further consider any specific proposals that my hon. Friend may bring forward.

Mr. Haynes

Is the Minister aware that in my constituency we produce beautiful, delicious English beef? —[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, Hear".] So as not to upset my Scottish colleagues, they also produce beautiful beef. When will the Minister do something about the importation of the rubbish from abroad?

Mr. Thompson

I am delighted that the hon. Gentleman's constituency continues to provide high quality beef, as it continues to provide all sorts of other high quality goods. The limitations on imported beef are very strict. We allow a small amount of high quality Hilton beef from the United States. We import some quota beef to help Third world countries — Opposition Members were demanding that when we discussed Question 1 today. Generally, we produce and eat a great deal, if not most, of our own beef.