HC Deb 27 July 1988 vol 138 cc402-4
14. Mr. Wallace

To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland when he last met the president of the National Farmers Union of Scotland to discuss the current state of agriculture in Scotland.

Mr. Michael Forsyth

My right hon. and learned Friend last met the president at the Royal Highland show.

Mr. Wallace

I am sure that the Under-Secretary of State is aware of the disappointment in Scottish agriculture at the relatively small devaluation of the green pound—not least in the beef sector, where a date for it to take effect has not even been announced. Additionally, there are ever-increasing financial burdens as a result of higher interest rates. On the next occasion that the Secretary of State meets the president of the Scottish NFU, does he propose bridging what the president recently described as a yawning credibility gap between the Government's protestations that British farmers must not be disadvantaged and their inability to deliver?

Mr. Forsyth

The position on the green pound is that we achieved a settlement that was very good compared with other countries; only two other countries within the Community did better. As to agriculture's financial position, the hon. Gentleman may be aware that the latest bank figures show a fall in the burden of debt carried by farmers in Scotland. In the year to May 1988 it was down 3.5 per cent. in current money terms and down 7 per cent. in real terms. The figures show increasingly careful financial management among other farmers, which is welcome.

Mr. Eadie

When the Minister met the president of the National Farmers Union, did he have an opportunity to discuss the massive cutbacks in research and development in agriculture? I believe that the total figure is about £75 million. Can the Minister tell the House how many jobs in Scotland will be involved in the cutback, and will he put in the Official Report all the institutions in Scotland that will suffer a cutback in employment?

Mr. Forsyth

The hon. Gentleman seeks to present a transfer of responsibility for funding from the state to industry as a cutback, for reasons best known to himself. The overall position on future levels of public spending on agricultural research and development is, as he knows, still under consideration, and no final decisions have been made.

Mr. Buchanan-Smith

Is my hon. Friend aware of the particular difficulties facing the pig industry in Scotland, particularly in areas such as Grampian, where it is an important part of the agricultural economy? Is he further aware that the problem is caused largely by the increase in overseas protein prices? This follows a very difficult period in relation to monetary compensation amounts. There is deep concern in the pigmeat sector in Scotland, as indeed there is throughout the United Kingdom.

Mr. Forsyth

As my right hon. Friend will know, one of the causes of concern in the pigmeat sector involved the removal of MCAs. He will also know that the recent settlement met our major objectives. It improves the competitive position of United Kingdom pig farmers relative to nine of the 12 member states, and virtually eliminates the pigmeat MCA gap.