HC Deb 19 December 1991 vol 201 cc443-4
10. Mr. Knox

To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food when he is next due to meet the president of the National Farmers Union to discuss the beef sector.

Mr. Curry

My right hon. Friend the Minister and I are in frequent contact with the president of the National Farmers Union about all aspects of the agriculture industry, including the beef sector.

Mr. Knox

What plans does my hon. Friend have to take up the 20 ecu supplement to the suckler cow premium agreed by the Council of Ministers on 11 December?

Mr. Curry

We are discussing our response to that decision. We voted against it on the ground that it seemed absurd to respond to a crisis in the beef sector simply by throwing yet more money into a system which has not been reformed. As the intervention system remains entirely in place, and as the Community has not decided to try to make savings by reforming the system to make it less attractive, it seemed to us to be the wrong way to tackle the problem. There are structural difficulties and the Council of Ministers has come up with a typical measure—just finding a few extra bob to see whether it will solve the problem. We are discussing the result of that Council with a view to taking our own decision.

Mr. Edwards

Many beef farmers in my constituency of Monmouth are deeply anxious about the impact of the MacSharry proposals. Their farms are generally too large to get the benefits of the MacSharry proposals, but they do not get the benefit of the less-favoured area payments. May I invite the Minister to come to Monmouth to discuss those problems with the farmers there, which will give him the opportunity to assure them that he is seeking to protect their interests?

Mr. Curry

My right hon. Friend has made that point personally to farmers of Monmouth. The hon. Gentleman knows that our doors are always open to members of the farming or fishing communities who have problems and that we are active around the countryside. The hon. Gentleman can be absolutely certain that we agree that the measures proposed by Mr. MacSharry are to the detriment of his farmers and farmers in every corner of the United Kingdom.

Mr. Knapman

Does my hon. Friend accept that the intervention scheme is a uniquely silly way of buying a first-class article, storing it for months on end, and then dumping it back on the market as a third-class article? Will he please reconsider the scheme as soon as possible?

Mr. Curry

As my hon. Friend knows, our fundamental position on reform is that the intervention system must he made a great deal less attractive. It was designed as a safety net, but in many respects it has now become a high wire for farmers. We should move to a system under which the specialist producer can be rewarded for producing an increasingly better carcase and an increasingly improved quality of meat, which will find a world market. If intervention remains, it should be reduced to the original concept of a safety net for use in extreme emergencies.