HL Deb 16 March 1961 vol 229 cc971-4

4.8 p.m.


My Lords, with your Lordships' permission I should like to make a statement similar to that which my right honourable friend is making in another place about the results of the Annual Agricultural Review. I will use his own words:

"As forecast by my predecessor when he announced the last Annual Review, the industry's income has been maintained. The forecast of actual net income for 1960–61 is £359 million compared with the revised estimate for last year of £356 million. When adjusted for normal weather the forecast figure is the record one of £373 million compared with £355 million for last year.

"The net increase in costs on review commodities is £19 million. The lamentable weather of last autumn has yet to show its full effect.

"The Government's main objective this year was to tackle the problems of beef and milk, which are to some extent connected, pigs, barley and marketing.

"Too little beef is being produced and the market could take much more. The guaranteed price is to be raised by the substantial amount of 10s, a cwt.

"Milk presents the opposite problem. An increasing quantity of milk is being produced which the Milk Boards can sell only at low prices for manufacture. Under the present system these receipts are pooled with those for sales of liquid milk, and the more that is produced, the lower the farmer's pool price. He, in turn, increases his output to keep up his income. We must try to break this vicious circle. What is needed is a system which brings home to the individual producer that beyond a certain point he only gets the manufacturing price for the milk he produces. The Unions have agreed to do their best to devise with the Boards a satisfactory system. Meanwhile, on this under- standing, we are raising the guaranteed price for the standard quantity by a little over id. a gallon. Should it not prove possible to get such a scheme, this increase will have to be reconsidered at the next Review.

"Pigs present another problem. We want more pigs but also in the long term a greater stability. We are therefore increasing the basic price by 3d. a score and undertaking not to reduce this at the 1962 Review. Far more important, we are altering the structure of the guarantee. The basic price will be increased automatically by stated amounts when we have too few pigs in prospect; and reduced when we have too many. The immediate effect of this flexible guarantee will be to increase the new basic price by a further 6d, a score.

"On crops our main decision is on barley. Production has almost doubled over the last six years, and the rate of subsidy is now nearly half the market price. This is out of all proportion to the support for any other commodity. We are reducing the price by the maximum amount of 1s. 2d. a cwt.

"Wheat will be left unchanged.

"Oats will be increased by 3d.

"The only other changes are that we are increasing the guaranteed price of potatoes by 5s. a ton and reducing the fertiliser subsidy by some £21 million.

"In sum we are increasing the value of the guarantees by £14 million. Of this, some £7 million is charged to the Exchequer. Following normal practice, the other £7 million required to raise the guaranteed price of milk will be found by leaving the retail price at a level of 8d. throughout the year instead of reducing it by ½d. per pint in three of the summer months.

"On the marketing side, we are introducing arrangements to give barley growers an incentive to hold their crop from harvest till later in the season.

"We have new plans for strengthening the potato marketing in years of heavy surplus and low prices.

"To encourage co-operation among farmers, we also intend to make grants towards the cost of buildings for machinery syndicates.

"In addition, the Government proposed a joint effort with the industry to finance market research and development. The Unions themselves are, of course, giving a lot of thought to marketing, and have plans of their own. They were not ready to accept our suggestion this year, but are anxious to discuss it further."

Full details of the Review are, of course, in the White Paper, which is now, I understand, available in the Printed Paper Office.

4.14 p.m.


My Lords, we are grateful for this statement, but the noble Earl will appreciate that it is very detailed and difficult to follow without seeing the full document, which I understand is now in the Printed Paper Office but which we have not yet had the opportunity of seeing. Even on a first reading of the statement, it looks to me very controversial in many respects. I admit that in one or two respects it seems somewhat favourable. But, generally speaking, it is very controversial, and therefore we should like an early debate on it. I believe that, through the usual channels, a date has been fixed within the next ten days or so. In those circumstances, I think we had better reserve our more detailed comments until that time.


My Lords, I think the noble Lord is quite right. I had understood—I may be wrong—that the noble Viscount who leads the Opposition had already booked, as it were, March 29 for a debate on agriculture.


My Lords, I do not know whether the noble Earl could tell us whether on this occasion it is an agreed Review with the Unions of the United Kingdom.


My Lords, I am glad to be able to say that this is an agreed Review.


My Lords, although the White Paper is available in the Printed Paper Office, four minutes ago I 'was informed that they were not allowed to give me a copy. I should like to ask the noble Earl why it is that when a statement of this kind is to be made it is not possible for us to be allowed to have a copy of the White Paper, so that we can perhaps more intelligently listen to the statement.


My Lords, I do not think this is for my noble friend to answer. This is in accordance with the usual arrangements, and if anyone would wish to challenge them there are means of discussion open to them to do so.