HC Deb 29 October 1990 vol 178 cc710-2
3. Mr. Ron Davies

To ask the Secretary of State for Wales if he will make a statement on the current state of the Welsh livestock industry.

The Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. David Hunt)

I have had a number of discussions recently with the farming unions, and the Government have taken a number of positive steps to help the Welsh livestock sector.

Mr. Davies

Will the Minister confirm the figures used by the Farmers Union of Wales, which show that farming incomes in the hill areas have reduced by 37 per cent. in comparison with 1986 levels? Does the right hon. Gentleman understand that if the Prime Minister has her way and brings about a further 30 per cent. cut in farm support, it will have a catastrophic effect on the employment, environment and culture of rural Wales? Will the Minister take it upon himself personally to intervene, to see that alternative measures are put in place to offset the worst effects on those who will be hardest hit?

Mr. Hunt

I thought that the hon. Gentleman's own party supported the 30 per cent. reduction in farm support. If there has been a change in policy, the hon. Gentleman owes it to the House to make that clear. It is agreed that there should be such a cut, and discussions are continuing on how it should be implemented, on 1986 levels. As to the Welsh farming industry, I have constantly made it clear that a healthy agricultural sector is vital to the economic, environmental and social future of Wales. We have taken several steps, including advance payments on the sheep annual premium, the stickler cow premium, and beef intervention—the cost of which last week was running at about £6 million. The Government are doing what they can to assist in a very difficult situation.

Mr. Nicholas Bennett

My right hon. Friend will be aware, from his meetings with Pembrokeshire farmers, of the serious concern that is felt in the farming industry at present. Can he give the House an assurance that if the GATT negotiations are successful and there are phased reductions in subsidies during the next few year, they will be properly managed and incremental, and that alternative means of support will be given to farmers, especially in environmental improvement?

Mr. Hunt

Of course, I shall consider carefully what my hon. Friend said. He is right to highlight the serious situation that would arise for Welsh agriculture if we were to enter a trade war and thus see many of our better export markets destroyed. That would be a catastrophe for Welsh farmers. Obviously, I am keeping closely in touch with those negotiations, which I hope will be successfully concluded. My hon. Friend is absolutely right to say that any changes must be gradual and incremental.

Mr. Livsey

What representations did the Secretary of State make to Brussels, prior to the announcement at the weekend of a cut so that only one third of farmers in the less-favoured areas in Wales will be included? Indeed, two thirds of those recommended by the Welsh Office were excluded. Could he tell us what representations he made to avoid that?

Mr. Hunt

The hon. Gentleman will be aware that I and my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food had worked out what we felt to be a reasonable bid to the European Community. I have yet to receive formal notification of its decision, but I believe that the bid was realistic and achievable, and I hope that it will be successful. I urge the hon. Gentleman—unless the press report is incorrect—not to contact the French, in particular, to urge support for their attitude to agriculture, because I do not think that that is going down very well in Wales.

Mr. Bill Walker

Does my right hon. Friend agree—[Interruption.]—that the livestock sector in Wales, in Scotland and in upland parts—[Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker

Order. This is the United Kingdom Parliament.

Mr. Walker

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the livestock sector in Wales, Scotland and other upland parts of the United Kingdom is an essential part of our strategic planning so that we can supply food and resources to meet these islands' requirements? Does he further agree that the problems lie within Europe, where people cannot reach a decision on matters that are fundamentally important?

Mr. Hunt

I am glad that we get that level of support from my hon. Friend, who represents a Scottish constituency. It is vital that everybody throughout the Community realises how important a healthy agricultural livestock sector is for the future of Wales and Scotland.

Mr. Barry Jones

Will the right hon. Gentleman admit that the small family farm is struggling desperately, that financial disaster stares it in the face, and that he cannot expect our people to suffer in silence when they are deeply in debt and cut to the bone? Is not it the case that the right hon. Gentleman has no coherent policy whatever? We want the right hon. Gentleman to use the full weight of his office. We are getting tired of a cosmetic and over-sanguine approach. There is a crisis and he must act now.

Mr. Hunt

I completely agree with the hon. Gentleman about the importance of this subject, but I did not detect that he was putting forward an alternative policy. When he examines the issues, he will see that the important factor to bear in mind about Welsh agriculture is that we must continue to support family farms in Wales. We have very efficient farmers, and that is why we have so much to lose from a trade war. I was sad that he made no expression of his opinion on that important aspect.

Back to