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World Food Conference

Volume 887: debated on Thursday 6 March 1975

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asked the Prime Minister if he is satisfied with the co-ordination between the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and the Ministry of Overseas Development in relation to implementing the World Food Conference pledges.

I would refer the hon. Member to the reply which I gave to my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Mr. Hooley) on 16th January.—[Vol. 884, c. 147.]

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for that reply. Will he look at the whole attitude of the Minister of Agricuture, Fisheries and Food more closely, because many people feel not only that he is failing in his duty regarding this co-ordination, but that, in other respects, he is failing the House and his party? That fact was illustrated last night, because, when we debated some of the most critical agricultural amendments to the Finance Bill and the application of capital transfer tax to that great industry, the right hon. Gentleman was not present at any time. Will the Prime Minister ask his right hon. Friend to pull his socks up?

My right hon. Friend's colleagues in the Ministry of Agriculture were present. My impression was that when the House debated these matters there were some rather notable and distinguished absentees when the votes were taken.

The hon. Gentleman's question effects a number of Ministers. I know that, in view of his interest in the World Food Council project, he will be glad to know that my right hon. Friend the Minister of Overseas Development is this week chairing a meeting of Ministers from the whole of the Commonwealth on food production and rural development. Following the Rome Conference my right hon. Friend took the initiative in calling for a Commonwealth Conference to see what could be done.

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that it would probably be more appropriate for the Minister of Overseas Development than the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food to represent this country on the World Food Council, since it is largely concerned with the food problems of developing countries?

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. I referred to my right hon. Friend because of the question which had been put. My hon. Friend will be aware that in Washington my right hon. Friend and I took the initiative with President Ford. We have pursued it since and intend to make it a major item, if we can, at the Commonwealth Conference, with the proposals that I then put forward and set out in a speech in Leeds about the world food programme to avoid cartelistic devices to restrict production, in order to give assurance to producers for a long time ahead, whatever the state of the market, and, in particular, to cover not merely food production but fertilisers and other things, some of which are in danger of falling into international cartels' hands.

Does the Prime Minister accept that whatever social or financial effects the Finance Bill may have, it must reduce the injection of private capital into agriculture and that no public substitute has been proposed? Therefore, is not the inevitable and logical result of the Bill that less food will be produced at higher cost?

I do not accept what the hon. Gentleman said. The House is having more than adequate time this week to discuss all these matters on the Finance Bill, and the hon. Gentleman will no doubt have tried to make his point.

Is my right hon. Friend aware of the enormous support, on both sides of the House, for the initiative taken by the Minister of Overseas Development and for her part in convening the Commonwealth Food Conference? Therefore, does he not think it deplorable that only one British national newspaper gave even a line of mention to this vital conference?

It is not for me to comment on the situation. We know that newsprint is scarce and expensive. I suppose that is why so much is wasted on other things. Now that it has been mentioned in this House, I have no doubt that it will be on the front page of every newspaper. I hope that the Press will record that this is a positive achievement in Commonwealth co-operation, in fulfilment of a world idea.