§ 1. Mr. Andrew Welsh
To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland when he last met the president of the National Farmers Union to discuss the future of the Scottish agricultural industry.
§ The Minister of State, Scottish Office (Mr. Michael Forsyth)
My right hon. Friend has not yet had an opportunity to meet the president of the National Farmers Union of Scotland, but looks forward to doing so.
§ Mr. Welsh
Is the Minister aware of the massive cash flow crisis facing the hill, upland and livestock sectors? The income from cast ewes has fallen by 50 per cent. in the past year, while income from cattle is down by £50 and the income from sheep has fallen by £5 per head. That is happening at a time of massive input cost increases, high inflation and high interest rates. When will the Minister announce the livestock premium and will it be adequate to meet those problems? Will he ensure an immediate and maximum payment of premiums so that enough cash is available to allow the industry to overcome its major cash flow crisis?
§ Mr. Forsyth
My noble Friend Lord Strathclyde, who is attending the Fisheries Council meeting in Brussels, is well aware of the problem to which the hon. Gentleman has drawn attention. The hon. Gentleman will be aware that we hope to be able to announce the levels of support shortly. The support given to the livestock sector in the 272 hills and uplands of Scotland amounts to £100 million, which is testimony to the importance that the Government attach to those areas of agriculture.
§ Mr. Buchanan-Smith
I am sure that my hon. Friend is aware from his constituency of the crisis among livestock producers in the hill and upland areas. We are nearly at the end of the year and the new rates of hill livestock compensatory allowance come into effect on 1 January. When will we know those new rates? Can my hon. Friend assure me that they will be substantially increased—I hope to the maximum allowed under the European rules?
§ Mr. Wilson
Does the junior Minister share the view of his ministerial colleague, Lord Strathclyde, so crudely expressed on Scottish Television last week, that any Scottish farmers in financial difficulties now are there through their own business incompetence? Is not that an insufferably complacent and offensive statement for a Minister to make? Does he share Lord Strathclyde's other remarkable opinion that Scotland does not need a permanent presence in Brussels because those involved would be more interested in junketing and self-publicity than in job creation, or does the Minister accept the rather more intelligent opinion of the Scottish Development Agency on that matter?
§ Mr. Forsyth
I am confident that my noble Friend will do everything possible to support our farmers. The support that the Government have given to those in the uplands areas and to the hill farmers is testimony to the seriousness with which we view the matter.
The way forward for farming in Scotland involves an intelligent approach to the difficult problems—an approach which my noble Friend is applying. Judging from the tone and tenor of the hon. Gentleman's question, however, he has yet to address himself to those problems. We look forward to hearing about Labour party policy in that regard.