HC Deb 25 May 1989 vol 153 cc1110-1
9. Mr. Gill

To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what steps he is taking to persuade the EC to concentrate beef support on the suckler cow.

Mr. MacGregor

In the discussion on the reform of the beef regime we pressed for reduced levels of intervention support and increased direct payments to producers, particularly specialist beef producers. I am pleased to say that the case for concentrating more support on the suckler cow was recognised and we secured the possibility of a major increase in the suckler cow premium which will, following the announcement that I made recently about United Kingdom national financing, be set 42 per cent. higher in 1989–90 at the maximum permissible of £47.43 per cow.

Mr. Gill

When my right hon. Friend discusses these matters with our European partners, will he remind them that in concentrating support for beef on the suckler cow rather than on intervention and on headage payments, with all the difficulties and problems to which they give rise, they would be helping a system that would be much easier to administer, much less prone to fraud and which would target aid to rural areas and specifically to the primary producers? Will he also remind them that that in its turn would help to keep people and families in the countryside, which would be helpful in producing a high quality product in a natural way and bring tremendous nutritional value to the consumer?

Mr. MacGregor

I agree with all those points. We now have a policy that is more market oriented, and that too is in the interests of the consumer. Those were the points that I had in mind when we pressed for the changes that we have now secured.

Mr. Beggs

In future, will small farmers who at present are earning more from part-time employment off their farms, benefit from all the payments that are made available on suckler cows?

Mr. MacGregor

Yes, I think that is so.

Mr. Boswell

I congratulate my right hon. Friend on securing a 42 per cent. increase in the suckler cow premium, not only from Europe but in negotiations with our own Treasury. Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind the importance of not rushing into any proposal to amalgamate the suckler cow premium with the remaining value of the headage payment, certainly not for the present, and under no circumstances when there might he a headage limit on the suckler cow premium as well?

Mr. MacGregor

There are no further proposals on this front at present, but I shall bear in mind what my hon. Friend has said.

Mr. Beith

Will the Minister keep particularly in mind that any headage limitation is just as inappropriate in this area as it is for sheep, particularly in parts of the country such as Northumberland, where farms units are large and where the nature of the land and the acreages involved are such that large numbers are necessary?

Mr. MacGregor

The point about large numbers being necessary is one that I have stressed constantly in relation to limits on headage payments. As I indicated earlier on the special beef premium, I eventually voted against the final package because it still contained that element. I am sorry to say that we could not muster a qualifying blocking minority, but I indicated my position by voting as I did.