§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. David Curry)
We seek to ensure fair competition for all British farmers.
§ Mr. Steen
It is not just hill farmers who are facing difficulties. Livestock farmers in the lowlands are also facing severe difficulties, many of them to the point of bankruptcy. Can my hon. Friend the Minister see his way to doing something about the cheap imports of meat from eastern Europe which are coming through east Germany? That is having a terrible effect on the meat regimes of the small lowland farmers. Also, will he look again at quotas, because that may be a way of helping small farmers to deal with the most intolerable conditions?
§ Mr. Curry
I quite understand my hon. Friend's concern about small farmers. As he will recall, we sought to help them when we distributed the extra 1 per cent. of milk. We have to be careful, but any Community policy for small farmers would stand precious little chance of helping the United Kingdom, due to the different sizes. On quotas, we look at all the options, particularly in the light of GATT, but there is a danger of prices being left so high that they are marooned above consumption and we would then have a new crisis. There is the problem of the United Kingdom being pinned down where it has a competitive advantage. We could do with more milk, but we cannot produce it, because of the quota system and there is a major problem of young entrants. We are not aware of meat coming into the United Kingdom from east Germany, but east Germany can circulate products throughout the entire Community and we will exercise the strongest supervision over that.
§ Mr. Geraint Howells
Does the Minister agree that small hill farmers will not survive without financial aid from the Government? To restore confidence, will the Minister give an assurance that he will do his utmost to 1003 ensure that no further subsidy cuts will be made in the next four or five years? What immediate plans has he to help farmers in need?
§ Mr. Curry
I agree absolutely with the hon. Gentleman about the importance of the hill farmer. I agree also that the hill farmer will not survive without some support from the public purse. We have extended a large addition to the subsidy going to the beef and sheepmeat sector in particular. We keep the matter under review. We have a series of programmes relating to how we can help environmentally, but we cannot reverse what is happening in the marketplace. We will do our best to help and we recognise the importance of those producers.
§ Mr. Marland
As my hon. Friend is aware, many dairy farmers, both small and large, depend on the purchasing ability of the milk marketing board. Now that the future of the board is in the public domain, will my hon. Friend consider a role for it as a possible buyer of last resort for milk?
§ Mr. Curry
The future role of the milk marketing board is a matter for the board itself. We are anxious for the board to make proposals for the future of dairy marketing in the United Kingdom. There is no Government-prescribed plan for that. We are obviously discussing various options with it, but it is for the board to decide where it wants to go. It started the debate—not the Government—and now that it has been started it must be carried through to a sensible conclusion.