HC Deb 09 June 1988 vol 134 cc971-2
3. Mr. Bellingham: T

To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food when he last met the president of the National Farmers Union; and what matters were discussed.

Mr. MacGregor

I last met the president of the National Farmers Union formally on 16 May when we discussed the Commission's 1988℃89 farm price proposals. I have met him informally on a number of occasions since.

Mr. Bellingham

When my right hon. Friend next meets the president, will he make clear to him the importance of the sugar beet sector to Norfolk farmers, particularly bearing in mind the despondency in agriculture at the moment? Sugar beet is one of the few bright lights on the horizon. Will he assure the House that no sugar beet package will be agreed at Monday's Council meeting that puts the United Kingdom at a competitive disadvantage vis-à-vis Italy and France? Will he do all that he can to persuade the Community to prevent Italy and France from renewing national aid to their sugar beet production sectors?

Mr. MacGregor

My hon. Friend will know that I am extremely well aware of the importance of sugar beet to Norfolk farmers. I can, therefore, assure him that I will endeavour to achieve what he asks. At the moment the Commission's proposal is for a price freeze which would not affect the competitive position of the United Kingdom industry. An attempt was made during the lead-up to the summit reforms to undermine our position through the sugar supplementary levy and we successfully fought that off. With regard to the aids in France and Italy, there is no Commission proposal to that effect in the price fixing at the moment.

Mr. Geraint Howells

Does the Minister agree with the statement made by the president of the National Farmers Union today that up to 30 per cent. of support to sheep farmers will be cut under the present proposals of the EEC policy for sheepmeat?

Mr. MacGregor

That will not happen under the proposals before us on stabilizers—which is the issue that we have already decided—unlessthere is a massive increase in sheepmeat production which would cause the stabiliser to be triggered in a substantial way. I do not envisage that happening. I have not seen the statement, but I imagine that the president had in mind the future of the sheepmeat regime as a whole. We have not yet embarked on discussions on that, so it is not possible to predict the outcome.

Miss Emma Nicholson

On his next visit to the National Farmers Union, will my right hon. Friend be kind enough to raise the problems raised with me by the Devon branch of the Women's Farmers Union about the continuing and upgraded use of bovine somatotropin in the production of milk? The Women's Farming Union believes that the lack of labelling of milk produced by that method will have a still further depressing effect on the sale of Dorset milk.

Mr. MacGregor

There is a question later on the Order Paper about product licensing and that is what will determine whether we see a big expansion, or any expansion, in BST milk. I will answer that question when we come to it and we will have to look at the question of labelling. If there is consumer concern about BST, labelling may be the way to tackle it. However, that raises many commercial considerations which will have to be discussed widely.

Dr. David Clark

In view of the comments of the Select Committee on the Environment on the NFU's sanguine view and the Department's complacent attitude towards agricultural pollution, when the Minister next meets the president of the NFU will he draw his attention to the fact that farm pollution incidents are at their highest recorded level? Will he also tell him that enough really is enough?

Mr. MacGregor

I assure the hon. Gentleman that we do not take a sanguine view of farm pollution. He will have seen the comments of my right hon. Friend the Minister of State earlier this week when the latest report was published. We take the matter very seriously and I am anxious to reduce substantially the number of farm pollution incidents. We are not sanguine about the matter.