HC Deb 08 July 1981 vol 8 cc143-4W
Mr. Latham

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food whether he will make a statement on the results of his Department in achieving the Government's policy programme since his reply to a similar question by the hon. Member for Melton on 17 June 1980.

Mr. Peter Walker

In 1980 agricultural production rose to its highest level ever dispite the economic pressures on the industry. The common agricultural policy prices settlement was consistent with our policy of maintaining a healthy and vigorous agricultural and horticultural industry, took proper account of the interests of consumers and included measures for containing the cost of the policy.

Special attention has continued to be given to the needs of the hill areas by further increasing the assistance they receive. These areas will continue to benefit in particular from the suckler cow subsidy and from the sheepmeat support arrangements.

The price of milk has been raised to meet the special needs of this sector as a whole.

We continue to seek improvements in marketing. The Government have been working closely with the agriculture and food and drink industries to increase the United Kingdom share on a competitive basis of both domestic and export markets.

During the last year an outbreak of foot and mouth disease has been rapidly and effectively dealt with and the country's freedom from other major epizootic diseases has been maintained. We have also concentrated on improvements in animal welfare, both in the national and international contexts.

To meet the continuing demand from the agricultural industry for advice from the Agricultural Development and Advisory Service, we have ensured that the service remains abreast of new technology and production methods. In addition to its day-to-day advisory work, it is thus able to provide a specialist advice on disease control, conservation, marketing and the use of computers.

On fisheries, agreement has been reached in the Community on a range of technical conservation measures which are now in operation. Considerable progress has been made towards the revision of a common fisheries policy so that a settlement can be reached relatively quickly if member States genuinely wish to reach agreement.

At the same time, the new Fisheries Act provides a basis for the industry to modernise and develop its catching and marketing arrangements, strengthens the provisions for enforcement of conservation controls and assists the development of fish farming. The Government have confirmed their faith in the future of the fishing industry by providing substantial financial aid to tide the industry over a difficult period.

Further action to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the Ministry's work has been taken. The administration of the agricultural and horticultural capital grant schemes has been greatly simplified by dropping the prior approval requirement and giving the farmer and grower greater freedom to make his own investment decisions.

The recommendations from a management review of the regional and headquarters structure of the Ministry have been implemented. As the Ministry's contribution to the manpower reductions in the Civil Service as a whole, a further 350 posts are to be saved in the current financial year.