HL Deb 19 January 1983 vol 437 cc1413-4

3.55 p.m.

Viscount Mersey

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government what has been the growth, since 1973, of British self-sufficiency for cereal and meat.

The Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Earl Ferrers)

My Lords, in 1981, United Kingdom cereal production accounted for 96 per cent. of our total supplies, as opposed to 68 per cent. in 1973. The corresponding figures for meat were 86 per cent. in 1981 and 77 per cent. in 1973. Figures for 1982 will be given in the Annual Review of Agriculture 1983 White Paper, which will be published shortly.

Viscount Mersey

My Lords, I thank my noble friend the Minister for those encouraging figures. I wonder whether my noble friend would agree that they are in part due to improved crop varieties stemming from the work done by the Agricultural Research Council? In that connection, may I ask my noble friend whether or not it is regrettable that there should be a proposed reduction in the funding of the Agricultural Research Council?

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, I agree that to a large extent much of the increase in production is due to new and improved varieties, in which the Agricultural Research Council has a very substantial part to play. But the expenditure on research which is commissioned by the Ministry of Agriculture from the Agricultural Research Council has increased from £30.4 million in 1979–80 to an estimated £48.5 million in 1982–83. There has, therefore, been no cut. The reduction to which my noble friend refers does not relate to the coming year but to the years 1984–85 and 1985–86. It is from funds which are distributed by the Department of Education and Science. This cut has been made on the advice of the Advisory Board for Research Councils, which gives advice to the Government on the distribution of the whole of the science budget.

Lord John-Mackie

My Lords, is not the Minister a little worried about the imbalance in the figures? The rise in meat production is less than 10 per cent., while the rise in cereal production is 28 per cent., if my quick calculations are correct—and I think they are.This shows an imbalance in agriculture which is worrying many people and it should be worrying the Ministry of Agriculture, too. I am wondering whether the Minister has any views on the subject.

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, I personally am delighted by the increase in both meat and cereals production, but the noble Lord, Lord John-Mackie, is quite right in saying that there is an imbalance. This imbalance is of concern to the Ministry of Agriculture. It is also of concern to the Commission. That is why the increases for cereals last year were less than those applicable to the meat sector.