HC Deb 21 March 1991 vol 188 cc386-7
3. Sir Michael Shaw

To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what is the increase in the price of food to consumers as measured against the retail prices index since 1979.

10. Mr. Ian Taylor

To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food by how much food prices to the consumer have increased since 1979 relative to the retail prices index.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. David Curry)

Since 1979 the price of food has fallen by more than 18 per cent. relative to the retail prices index.

Mr. Michael Shaw

I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. Does he agree that that success story owes much to the efforts of British agriculture? Should we not also realise, however, that those efforts demand a fair return for farmers who put both work and capital into their enterprises to bring about that success?

Mr. Curry

I agree with my hon. Friend that the factor that will most benefit the farmer is for us to get on top of inflation. The farmer makes a contribution towards defeating inflation because of the performance of food prices. It is also true that if the farmer wishes to benefit more from consumer spending, the more he can produce processed products that the consumer wants to buy, the better. Nobody goes into a a shop to buy sheep—they go to buy meat products and the more the farmer can get into that business, the more he will benefit from his own primary production.

Mr. Ian Taylor

My hon. Friend has just said something rather interesting—[Interruption.] It was not so much unusual, but it anticipated the flow of my own question.

Farmers may well have been contributing to the lowering of inflation. That is unfortunate for them in that they do not receive what they consider to be a proper rate of return. Does my hon. Friend agree that they should therefore concentrate their efforts on getting value added and adding some sex appeal to the crops that they sell?

Mr. Curry

It is true that people selling unbranded commodities will never receive the same return from them as the people who take the commodity, transform it, package it and give it new appeal. It is equally true that the consumer clearly wants the processed convenience product. The more that farmers can get into that business through greater collaborative effort and greater links with the retail trade, the more they will realise the benefits of their own primary production.

Mr. Beggs

Does the Minister accept that the price paid to the producers—farmers—is an extremely low percentage of the price paid by consumers? Does he also accept that unless a proper check is kept on the prices paid to producers there will inevitably be a shortfall in production, which will put prices to consumers through the ceiling? Will he endeavour to assist farmers in marketing their produce so that they can gain more for the agricultural produce of their farms?

Mr. Curry

We certainly try to take our decisions in European negotiations and in the Ministry with a view to helping British farmers get their products on the table in front of British housewives and other people. It is also true that the reason for lower returns in agriculture is the persistence of over-supply in the marketplace. The greatest service that we can do for a farmer is to conquer the problem of over-supply and inflation. When we can do that, the farmer will be able to realise his returns much more easily.

Mr. Skinner

Is the Minister aware that, notwithstanding the prices to which he refers, for the first time in the 21 years I have been a Member of Parliament, the farmers and farm workers in Bolsover, Derbyshire and other parts of the country are fed up to the back teeth with the Government and the common agricultural policy? They used to paint the grass blue in Bolsover at election time, but they have said that they will never do it again.

Mr. Curry

If the farmers were to vote for the hon. Gentleman, they would undergo a rapid learning curve and only make that mistake once.