HC Deb 03 May 1983 vol 42 cc54-6W
Mr. Murphy

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will set out the principal achievements of Her Majesty's Government within his Department's responsibilities since May 1979.

3. Mr. Peter Walker

They are as follows:

Food Prices

The most recent figures for food prices show that over the past year they have risen by only 0.9 per cent. the smallest increase in food prices since 1964.

We have been successful in negotiating within the European Community a number of schemes of considerable benefit to consumers: The sheepmeat regime negotiated in October 1980; substantial improvements in the beef premium scheme; and a doubling of the butter subsidy.

These three schemes in combination will provide some £300 million of subsidies to the benefit of the British consumer in 1983.

British Agriculture

The 1983 Annual Review of Agriculture White Paper records that farm incomes reached a record level in 1982 and in real terms showed a substantial recovery from the decline that had taken place since the mid-1970s.

The Government have helped to achieve this improvement by seeing that on the livestock side we have had the introduction of the successful sheep premium scheme, considerable improvements in the beef premium scheme and substantial improvements to the system of costing and margin control for liquid milk, which has contributed to the rising trend of returns to dairy farmers. To assist meat exports the Government are meeting the cost of veterinary inspection for export and, for pigmeat, have also secured aids for private storage and much improved export refunds. We have also made very substantial improvements in the hill farm subsidies for both sheep and cattle and we have negotiated the introduction of the suckler cow premium.

In spite of the pressures of public expenditure we have maintained the excellent advisory services to agriculture and very substantial research programmes.

The Government have made a very substantial effort in improving the market performance of British agriculture and horticulture. We gave important aid to the Apple and Pear Development Council, which has successfully launched the Kingdom schemes and we have introduced re-planning grants for apples and pears. We have launched Food From Britain, a major organisation, which will compare favourably with similar organisations long established by our major international competitors. The combined results of our activities in agriculture have meant that during the term of this Government we have become far more self-sufficient: further improvements in which are achievable. It is remarkable that through a major recession British agriculture has made a substantial contribution to improving our balance of payments, exports have substantially increased whilst the volume of imports has declined.

Throughout the period farm workers earnings have been improved every year in real terms. Farm workers have thus shared in the benefits from the recovery of agriculture, an important contribution to which has been our effective negotiations in Brussels to eradicate unfair aids given by other member countries and by our eradication of the substantial negative MCA subsidies on imports that existed during the previous Government; during most of the period of this Government British agriculture has had the benefit of positive MCAs namely Community-financed export subsidies.

We have extended, where appropriate, protection against plant pests and diseases. We have improved the health status of the country's livestock and have, where necessary, strengthened our defences against the introduction of diseases from other countries.

We have created the Farm Animal Welfare Council with a new and important remit to examine the welfare of farm animals and to publish any views or requests that they wish to make. We have acted on several of their recommendations.

We have played a full part in implementing measures to promote wildlife and landscape conservation and we have seen to it that the Agricultural Development and Advisory Service has been injected with the skills to provide positive advice in these spheres. Simplified capital grant schemes have been introduced.

British Fishing

On fisheries, we are the first Government to have succeeded in negotiating a revised and comprehensive Community fisheries policy. The agreement provides British fishermen with quotas of fish better than they have enjoyed since the loss of fishing in Icelandic waters and a preference within coastal waters greater than that which has been enjoyed in the history of the fishing industry, and we have provided them with substantial subsidies. We are now discussing with them the future restructuring of our fishing fleet to take advantage of the opportunities that will be available for the rest of this century.

The Sea Fish Industry Authority has been established with objectives which place particular emphasis on the improvement of marketing.

The Ministry has been responsible for the development of the Thames barrier which was put into operational use for the first time in February this year and is a major engineering achievement.

In spite of the numerous activities that the Ministry has performed for the consumer, farmer, horticulturist and fishermen, and the many new dynamic initiatives we have taken in spheres such as marketing, animal welfare and the care of the environment, we have achieved this with a reduction in Ministry staff of 1,900 between May 1979 and April 1983.