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National Farmers' Union

Volume 928: debated on Thursday 17 March 1977

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asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food when he expects to meet representatives of the National Farmers' Union; and what subjects he expects to discuss with them.

I keep in close touch with the National Farmers' Union on matters of concern to the agriculture industry.

Will my right hon. Friend discuss with the farmers the Common Market farm price proposals, which will mean an extra 70p a week on the food bill of average families in addition to the 24 per cent. anual increase in the price of food that they have already suffered? Does he agree that the Tory Government made a mistake in the first place by taking us into the Common Market and that the Labour Government made an even bigger mistake in recommending us to stay in? Will he now try to extricate us from the stupidity of the common agricultural policy, which has become an albatross around our necks?

Whatever I think and whatever I may have said in the past, we are now in the Common Market, and the CAP is part of the Common Market. That does not mean that I have to accept every proposal that is put before me. The Government believe that the price rise that we have been talking about needs to be avoided. That is why I have told the NFU exactly where we stand. I further pointed out to it that the best way of penalising its members' production is to provide food that the housewife cannot afford to buy.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the NFU is deeply concerned about the EEC proposals for milk? Is he also aware that in this country we do not produce surpluses of liquid milk or dairy products? Is he aware, too, that the doorstep delivery of milk in this country is unique within the EEC? Will he ensure that no steps or decisions are taken in the EEC that will damage the dairy industry, either the trade or the producer?

I have that very much in mind. Wherever the butter mountain exists it certainly does not exist in the United Kingdom. Furthermore, our traditional method of having milk delivered daily to the doorstep is something that we must protect. It is for that reason that I am fighting very hard to preserve for us the milk marketing boards—as good an example of practical Socialism as it is possible to have, as my hon. Friend said yesterday.

When my right hon. Friend next addresses a meeting of the National Farmers' Union, and particularly when he next meets Sir Henry Plumb, will he draw attention to the excellent speech made yesterday by the hon. Member for Holland with Boston (Mr. Body). who pointed out that in the end the interests of farmers and consumers are the same and that British farmers stand in danger of losing the good will of the consumer? Will he ask Sir Henry to support the continued mutton regime in this country with deficiency payments rather than a system of intervention?

I thought that the hon. Member for Holland with Boston (Mr. Body) made an extremely clear and remarkable speech. It was one of the best that I have heard for some time. I do not think I need draw it to the attention of the NFU, as I am sure that it will have read it with interest. There is a great deal in my hon. Friend's second point, but fortunately, now is not the moment that the question becomes imminent.

I hope that when the Minister sees the NFU he will take the opportunity to explain to it how the answers that he has been giving today fit in with his maintenance of the "Food from Our Own Resources" policy as there seem to be major conflicts.

I shall explain to the NFU that "Food from Our Own Resources" is very much the basis on which we improve our own country's agriculture. For that reason, as I have pointed out from time to time, certain of our partners in Europe regard it as anti-communautaire and rather nationalistic. I must point out that the policy of Her Majesty's Government has not in any way destroyed confidence in agriculture. It is material that applications for the Farm and Horticultural Development Scheme, in which the farmer has to put down about three-quarters of the money, are increasing. There were 227 applications in September 1975 and 3,420 in September 1976. That is not the sign of a bad industry.