HC Deb 21 March 1991 vol 188 cc387-8
4. Mr. Alexander

To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food by what percentage farm gate prices have increased since 1979 relative to the retail prices index.

Mr. Curry

The index of producer prices of agricultural products increased at an average annual rate of 3.6 per cent. between 1979 and 1990, compared with 7.5 per cent. for all items in the retail prices index.

Mr. Alexander

Does my hon. Friend agree that the figures that he has produced show how essential it is, not least for the farmers in Bolsover, that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer continues with policies that will bear down on inflation? When my hon. Friend goes to Brussels and talks to Commissioner MacSharry, will he give him those figures and ensure that if there is any reform of the common agricultural policy, as is proposed, the returns to British farmers all over the country will not be further reduced as a result?

Mr. Curry

My right hon. Friend and I will be in Brussels next Monday and Tuesday, when no doubt these subjects will be on the agenda. We agree with my hon. Friend. We have made it clear to Mr. MacSharry and our colleagues that, although we agree that changes must be made and that prices must fall closer to those of the marketplace, agriculture should be based on commercially viable farms and the United Kingdom farmer should not be discriminated against merely because he is efficient, modern and effective.

Mr. William Ross

How many other people in the food production chain from the farmer to the housewife have taken an actual cut in incomes since 1979?

Mr. Curry

Incomes will not be buoyant if the market is constantly over-supplied. If farmers wish to achieve better returns, the Government must conquer inflation and over-supply and take more interest in producing what the consumer wants in the form that the consumer wants it. If the consumer wants products that the farmer thinks inappropriate, it is the farmer and not the consumer who is wrong. There is only one market and it must deliver what the consumer wants.

Mr. Marland

I know that my hon. Friend is concerned about the drop in farm gate prices. Will he confirm that to raise farm gate prices farmers must add more value to their products? Will he further confirm that grant aid and advice is available from the Ministry to encourage and help farmers to find different ways of adding value to their products to make them more acceptable in the marketplace?

Mr. Curry

Farmers should certainly use all the help that is available. I do not wish to transform agriculture into some form of cottage industry producing pies and salami, but unless farmers get further down the food chain and produce goods that people want by adding value on the farm, they will be stuck with producing unbranded raw materials. As I said, people do not go into supermarkets to buy sheep—they buy products, which is what the farmer must produce.