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Agriculture, Fisheries And Food

Volume 928: debated on Thursday 17 March 1977

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Forestry (Private Sector)


asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he is satisfied with the level of plantings in the private sector of the forestry industry.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food
(Mr. Gavin Strang)

The level of planting in the private sector follows from decisions of many woodland owners who are influenced by their own individual appreciation of all the factors. The Government have acknowledged the concern expressed by the private sector over falling planting levels in recent years, through the setting up of the interdepartmental review of forestry taxation and grants, announced by my right hon. Friend the Minister of State at the Treasury last July. Ministers are at present considering the review body's report and hope to make an announcement shortly.

My Question was whether the Minister was satisfied with the level of plantings in the private sector. I expected him to answer "Yes" or "No". Does he realise the importance to the timber trade of plantings in this country? Is he aware that there has been a 64 per cent. increase in imports and only 34 per cent. increase in plantings? What is he going to do about it?

We shall be announcing our decisions in the light of the review. I can assure the hon. Member that we value the private industry and that we would like to see it making a full contribution to our forestry industry.

Will the Government be announcing a policy on this matter? When do they expect the review to be published?

Does the Minister agree that it would be advantageous for farmers living in less favoured areas to plant more trees in order to expand production from the land? Will he consider giving the industry further financial aid to plant more trees in those areas?

I am aware of the interesting studies that show how tree planting can increase not only forestry productivity but agricultural productivity where there is a proper integration. The new Chairman of the Forestry Commission is keen on that.

The Minister has still not answered the Question put to him by my hon. Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Costain). Is the Minister satisfied with the situation or does he share the view of everyone else who knows anything about the private forestry industry that it is most unsatisfactory and that the situation is caused by the inability of his Department to do anything about it. Does he accept that the intransigence of the Treasury has crippled the industry?

It is preposterous to suggest that the Treasury has crippled the industry. The hon. Member must appreciate that the main tax advantage to the industry—not to mention the Government grants that the private forestry sector obtains—is through the income tax schedule provisions. The Government specifically modified capital transfer tax in the 1975 Finance Act to include a special provision for the forestry industry.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. In view of the unsatisfactory nature of that reply I beg to give notice that I shall seek an early opportunity to raise the matter on the Adjournment.

Poultry (Carriage By Road)


asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food how many routine checks of poultry travelling by road have been made by officials of his Department in the last full year for which records are available; and how many contraventions of the regulations have been found in the same period.

The enforcement of the regulations protecting the welfare of poultry in transit is a responsibility of the local authorities and of the police. No central record is kept of the numbers of inspections made or of contraventions of the regulations.

Is the Minister aware that that is a most unsatisfactory answer? Is he thinking of improving the regulations in any way?

As the hon. Lady knows, since she takes a deep interest in the matter, the powers are derived from a very old order indeed. Although it refers specifically to cruelty to poultry in transit, we are looking again at the matter to see if it is possible to tighten up the regulations.

Fishing Methods


asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food whether he will review fishing methods in Great Britain in the interest of conservation.

The Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food
(Mr. E. S. Bishop)

All fishing methods are kept under active consideration.

Does the Minister agree that as the pressures increase upon the British fishing industry it is becoming increasingly essential that in the interests of conservation there should be a proper balance between methods, including the size of mesh nets, beam trawling and purse seining? May we have a review of the British fishing industry that takes account of the European situation?

Yes, I accept, as the hon. Gentleman does, the importance of conservation. He will know that under the Fishery Limits Act we have powers to look at fishing methods as well as other aspects. But what really matters is the way in which we control fishing effort in the areas concerned. These are matters that are under consideration.

As the Minister will no doubt have to move in agreement with his colleague the Secretary of State for Scotland, will he also do so in agreement with his colleague the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, so that the same policy may apply to all parts of the United Kingdom?

Yes. Conservation is not a matter that concerns only the Sussex coast, as the hon. Member for Shoreham (Mr. Luce) may have implied just now, because of his interest. We are concerned about conservation in the whole of the area around the British coast. We are considering these matters in consultation with those concerned.

On the question of fishing methods, will my hon. Friend bear in mind that an extension of fish farming at appropriate points around the coast of Britain, especially around the coast of West Wales, would substantially increase our food supplies? Will he and my right hon. Friend give very careful thought to that matter?

Yes. My right hon. Friend may be aware of the debate that we had in October, I think, when this matter was discussed. I think that I said then that there could be an increase in food supplies from fish farming which would probably be significant, although not as significant as some may think. Also, the Government's concern about this is indicated by the fact that the Ministry spends over £1 million a year on research and development in that sector. However, I shall certainly bear in mind my right hon. Friend's comments.

Is it not time that the House recognised that man's technical ability to catch fish now outstrips the fishes' technical ability to reproduce themeslves? Will anything short of the banning of some of the modern technical methods save our fishing industry?

That is quite an important point, but the fact is that we must recognise that conservation measures should be non-discriminatory and that they can affect our own fishermen as well. I think that that is something that they would accept. These matters are under review within the Community. We are most anxious to bring forward measures from time to time to protect our stocks.

Does the Minister agree that more important than reviewing the fishing methods of Britain is reviewing the fishing methods of our EEC partners? Will he assure the House that no British fishing boat will be restricted in any way so long as one Danish fishing boat is allowed to continue with Danish industrial fishing methods?

I think that the hon. Gentleman was present at the recent meet- ings at which we had been discussing this matter in connection with various orders to ban herring fishing and certain fishing methods. As I have said, methods of control must be nondiscriminatory. We must bear in mind the effect on all concerned. Community vessels are also covered by any restrictions within the 200-mile limits. But conservation, basically, is the responsibility of the member State. It is something that we think is of great importance.

My hon. Friend referred to the Fishery Limits Act 1976. In terms of other nations' fishery limits, can he say when we can expect some agreement with Iceland and a positive agreement with the Faroes? Also, when will the British Government do something to help the deep sea fishing fleet? This has particular relevance to employment on Humberside.

With regard to Iceland, I have nothing to add to what was said by my right hon. Friend yesterday and by the Foreign Secretary on 9th March. I think that my right hon. Friend also referred yesterday to the Faroese position. These matters are under urgent review because of their importance to our own industry.

Food Prices


asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what are the latest figures available for the effect of Common Market membership on the price of food in Great Britain; and if he will make a statement.

I refer my hon. Friend to the reply given to the hon. Member for Faversham (Mr. Moate) on 28th January 1977.

Does my right hon. Friend now agree, however, that the cost of our Common Market membership, in terms of food prices, is appalling? Will he not make it quite clear to our partners in the Common Market that our continued membership depends upon a drastic revision of the Common Market's agricultural and food policies?

It is no secret that I have for some time thought that the cost of our food would increase once we were in the Common Market. That I believe to be the case. I think that the retail food index has risen by 108 per cent. during our time of membership of the Common Market, to December 1976. How much of that rise is actually due to membership of the Common Market and how much is due to other factors is a little difficult to say. However, concerning the CAP and the present price review, Her Majesty's Government have made the position totally plain.

Does not membership of the Common Market affect the price of food in all parts of the United Kingdom and does not the figure that the right hon. Gentleman has just quoted apply to the United Kingdom and not just to Great Britain?

The right hon. Gentleman is entirely right in that. It is, of course, perfectly true that they affect the United Kingdom as such. If we are really being pedantic about this matter, perhaps I should add that horticulture is in a rather special situation.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the EEC Commission proposal for the exclusive use of dairy fats in the making of ice cream in the United Kingdom will, if carried out, surely cause a massive price increase and, what is even more serious, will probably create considerable unemployment in the industry?

I am aware of the difficulties about this matter. What I have said is that if the Commission's proposals mean merely that we are to have proper labelling, I do not think that any hon. Member could justifiably complain. What I think we can complain about is if measures are introduced under the guise of correct labelling which are in fact restrictive and contrary to most of the ways in which this country has been doing things.

How does the Minister see the price, to the housewife, of bacon and pork over the next two years or so, in view of the catastrophic fall in numbers of pigs subsequent to the drop in prices? Does he appreciate that the help that he gave earlier this year has been quite inadequate and that the pig industry is facing very serious problems?

It would be a little unfair to the three other hon. Members who have Questions on the Order Paper on this subject if I were to answer that question now. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will be a little patient.

Did my right hon. Friend notice that at the close of last night's debate the Opposition Front Bench committed the Tory Opposition to accepting the whole of the Commission's present price package, acceptance of which would lead to a further increase of nearly 15 per cent. in food prices in this country and carry the total balance of payments costs to about £900 million?

It was rather late at night, but I was a little surprised this afternoon when I saw the hon. Member for Derbyshire, West (Mr. Scott-Hopkins) nodding his head in agreement when I was talking about the exclusive milk feature and when he was agreeing with me about other disadvantages in the milk package. The milk package is an essential part of the whole package, as well as the prices.

Does the Minister agree that there are advantages in the milk package as well, and that if 1 ½ million cows are taken out of production in Europe it would be a great advantage to the level of production? Does he further agree that part of the reason for the rise in the cost of food is not the CAP but the inflationary measures that the present Government have introduced?

I do not agree with very much of that. It is for the hon. Gentleman, on a suitable occasion, to tell the House why he attacks individual parts of the milk package but nevertheless wants us to accept the lot.

Agricultural Subsidies


asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what representations he has had from farmers in and around Aberystwyth about recent Government policy on subsidy to agriculture.

My right hon. Friend has received no such representations from individual farmers in the Aberystwyth area.

Does the Minister agree that if we are to increase production from the land we shall have to spend more money on research and on modern agricultural techniques? What plans has he for research in Wales?

While we have received no individual representations, we have of course received representations from the farmers' unions. I think that the hon. Member is right to stress the importance of R and D. My Department's expenditure on it in this financial year is expected to total about £37 million, compared with £34·5 million in 1975–76. There is an experimental husbandry farm near Aberystwyth. Welsh farmers also benefit, of course, from work done elsewhere, particularly in other experimental husbandry farms.

Many farmers in Wales are concerned about the level of assistance for marginal land. If there is to be a greater output of food from our own resources, much of it can come from marginal land. Will the Minister give an assurance that there will be an improvement in the grant provisions for marginal land farmers?

I am aware of the substantial percentage of marginal land that exists in Wales. I think, however, that the hon. Member will be aware of the help available to farmers in marginal areas under the less-favoured areas legislation and other provisions, such as the Farm Capital Grant Scheme, and the Farm and Horticulture Development Scheme.

Does my hon. Friend agree that farmers in Wales, as in the rest of Britain, would be far better off if we abandoned the CAP and reverted to a farming policy of giving guaranteed prices for the farmers and cheap food for the consumers?

We may have a great deal of sympathy with the points made by my hon. Friend, and we may look back to the days of guaranteed prices and fat-stock schemes—arrangements that were ended by the Conservatives—but I believe that we must now accept that the greatest assurance for confidence that the industry can have is embodied in the steps being taken by my right hon. Friend the Minister.

Common Agricultural Policy


asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food whether he has any new proposals for reform of the common agricultural policy.


asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will make a statement on the progress of the negotiations to reform the common agricultural policy.

My right hon. Friend explained to the House yesterday our general approach to the CAP and the progress of negotiations on the Commission's price proposals for 1977–78, which include changes in CAP mechanisms.

Does the Minister recall that about nine or 10 years ago Dr. Mansholt called for reform of the CAP, and that since then, because of the vested interests, very little other than tinkering with the fringes has happened? In view of the almost universal contempt in which it is now held, is it not time to scrap the CAP and start again?

Some modifications have been made since Dr. Mansholt's statement, but the hon. Gentleman is substantially correct to this extent: the CAP relies far too heavily on end prices in meeting the problems of smaller producers in Europe.

Is it not a melancholy truth that the CAP is dominated by nations other than Britain and that any attempts to achieve a reform must depend on other Governments? Since the system is highly advantageous to those other Governments, are not those attempts by my right hon. Friend liable to be frustrated?

Certainly it is the case—the EEC proposals have brought this out strongly—that the attitude of other Governments to CAP price fixing in the Community is very different from that of the United Kingdom. I hope, however, that when we finally bring home a settlement on the basis of the current proposals we shall be able to demonstrate to my hon. Friend that we can secure significant changes in the British national interest.

Surely the Government ought to be consistent in these matters. How is it that on something that they can control the Government gave a 15 per cent. or 16 per cent. increase on lamb prices and a 31 per cent. increase on wool? Is it not about time there was some honesty in these matters?

I do not think that the hon. Gentleman could have heard my reply last night. We have increased the guarantees under the traditional British system—a system that has already been commented on by my hon. Friends. By so doing, we have not affected consumer prices, which is very different from the implications of some of the proposals that we were discussing in Brussels.

Has my hon. Friend seen the latest report from the Cambridge University Departments of Applied Economics and Land Economy that the CAP is costing Britain's balance of payments £600 million a year and is raising food prices perceptibly above the level at which they would be if we were able to buy food on the open market? Is he aware that this does not allow for the recent talks on further increases in CAP prices? Can he do anything about it, or are we to have this millstone permanently around our necks?

So far I have read only The Times report on the findings of those departments. I shall read the full document with interest when it is published next week. I certainly agree that at present, even with the mcas, the United Kingdom is paying more for some food imports than it would have paid if it were not confined by the CAP.

The Parliamentary Secretary's logic is becoming more ludicrous every moment. In his reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Devon, West (Mr. Mills), why did he say that it was acceptable to have a 16 per cent. increase for lamb, because that is only a guaranteed price, when he is refusing a 3 per cent. rise across the board under the European package?

Let me try to spell it out in simple terms. Yesterday's announcement will not affect food prices one iota. The Commission's proposals, combined with the transitional steps—

Very well then, even without the transitional steps, the Commission's proposals will increase food prices in this country by around 2 per cent.

National Farmers' Union


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.

Surplus Products (European Community)


asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will guarantee that future EEC food surpluses will be used for the benefit of member countries.


asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will make a statement concerning the disposal of structurally surplus agricultural products arising within the EEC.

It is our policy that an end is brought to structural surpluses and, where they exist at present, priority is given wherever feasible to Community consumers in their disposal. Structural surpluses will be removed only by keeping producers' prices at realistic levels.

Does my right hon. Friend recall that when the Euro-fanatics on both sides of the House were dragging us into the Common Market they said it would assist in helping Third World countries, that it would help in standing up to the Eastern bloc and that it would, through economies of scale, improve Britain's standard of living generally? Will he explain how selling butter to Russia and other countries fits in with those criteria? It sounds like double-Dutch to me.

First, we agree with my hon. Friend about the need to ensure that surpluses are dealt with in the proper way. The best way to deal with them is to prevent them by the common price restraint system that has been advocated in the Community by my right hon. Friend. As some of the prices in the Market are above those in third countries, it means that when commodities that are in surplus are sold outside the Community, to third countries, there has to be some adjustment to make them competitive. That is another reason why we should ensure that the changes that come about in respect of surpluses are not to our disadvantage.

Will the hon. Gentleman explain why it was not possible to sell off the butter mountain cheap in this country to old-age pensioners, for instance, rather than to sell it cheap to Russia?

Briefly, the answer is that my right hon. Friend has made various suggestions to the Community about the disposal of butter and other surplus supplies. Among other suggestions, he mentioned the need for helping our schools. The fact is that there are bound to be supplies that have to be in surplus and sold outside—[Interruption.]—and up to now that has been the Community's policy. However, the Commission has decided to modify its system by granting export licences for butter. The intention in future is to ensure that no further advance fixings or refunds are authorised for exports of butter to Eastern Europe. I emphasise the need to prevent surpluses in the first place and to ensure that when they arise they are used as far as possible for the benefit of Community consumers.

Does my hon. Friend agree that having nearly drowned in a lake of wine the poor CAP is now sliding into absurdity down the slippery slopes of a mountain of butter? In spite of the Damascus mood of the Conservative Party, does my hon. Friend agree that the real task is not merely a matter of disposal but to put an end to the creation of surpluses? Is my hon. Friend aware that there will be no final solution if he and his right hon. Friend do not continue to fight in Brussels to ensure the standstill of intervention prices?

After the statement of the hon. Member for Derbyshire, West (Mr. Scott-Hopkins) last night, that we should accept the entire Community package, it was obvious from yesterday's debate that there was no surplus of ideas or policies to set against the policies that we are putting forward. There were peaks of platitudes and lakes of loquacity, but nothing was put forward as a real alternative.

"Food From Our Own Resources"


asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will make a statement on progress towards achieving the objectives of the White Paper "Food from Our Own Resources", Command Paper No. 6020.


asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food whether the targets set for home grown food production in "Food from Our Own Resources" are being met.

I refer the hon. Members for Braintree (Mr. Newton) and Kidderminster (Mr. Bulmer) to the reply given to the hon. Members for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Ridley), Devizes (Mr. Morrison) and Romford (Mr. Neubert) on 17th February.

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that we are grateful that he has not attempted to say that a fall in production of 20 per cent. is an outstanding success? One contribution that can now be made to the re-expansion of agriculture is to give farmers the opportunity to spread incomes and tax liabilities over a longer period—for example, three years. Will he confirm the whispers that his right hon. Friend is in favour of that? If so, will he press the point on the Treasury, for the Budget?

In his first major speech to the Farmers' Club my right hon. Friend pointed out the potential benefits that he saw in a scheme of that nature. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will appreciate that there are other financial considerations that will have to be considered by the Government before they can make such an announcement.

Does the hon. Gentleman realise that many farmers regard the White Paper at best as a public relations exercise and at worst as a fraud? Will he specify a sector of farming in which, if a farmer invests in furtherance of the Government's declared objectives, he can assure the farmer that he will get a commercial return over the life of the investment?

Perhaps I can best answer the hon. Gentleman by referring him to page 37 of today's Financial Times, where he will read that the National Farmers' Union has said that the increase will help the expansion of sheep production, which both the Government and the industry wish to see. As I think the hon. Gentleman knows, that is part of "Food from Our Own Resources".

Does my hon. Friend agree that "Food from Our Own Resources" has been held back by the common agricultural policy and that the production of more food has been held back as much as the pricing of our food has been increased by the CAP? Is my hon. Friend prepared to speak to his right hon. Friend to ascertain whether he will continue making to the Cabinet and the Government generally the suggestions that I made in the debate yesterday, namely, that the Cabinet should abolish the CAP?

I cannot agree that the CAP has held back agricultural production in the United Kingdom. I agree that it is important that we strike the right balance between the interests of our producers and consumers in fixing agricultural prices to secure expansion without inflicting unnecessary increases on consumers.

Does the Minister agree that in the context of "Food from Our Own Resources" Scotland, unlike England, is self-sufficient in terms of both food and fish?

If the hon. Member is suggesting that we should not expand agricultural production in Scotland because we produce proportionately more. I think that Scottish farmers would disagree most strongly. We hope to increase sheep production, particularly, and we are looking to the French market.

Dairy Products


asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food whether he has any new proposals to ensure that EEC retail prices for dairy products are reduced to a level closer to prevailing world prices.


asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will make a statement on the policy adopted in the EEC for the future production of milk and dairy products.


asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what specific proposals he has to put to the Commission to prevent the continued building up of dairy produce surpluses in the EEC.

In discussions in the Council of Ministers on the Commission's price proposals and the proposed action programme for the dairy sector, the United Kingdom has consistently advocated the maximum possible restraint on common milk prices and indicated a willingness to consider other appropriate measures that could lead to a better balance in the dairy products market.

I welcome the tough line that the Minister has taken so far in reforming the common agricultural policy, but may I suggest that the Government consider pressing for an automatic relationship between target prices in the EEC and world prices? If there is to be such a big gap in the prices of commodities such as butter, the British consumer will suffer and there will be no incentive to efficient production.

The hon. Member has echoed what I said just now about the difference in prices inside and outside the Community, which makes the problem of surpluses much more acute. My right hon. Friend has taken this into account and we have put forward very strongly to the Community that those member States that have the most efficient producers should be given the greatest encouragement, and that others with less efficient producers should be discouraged. That would help to restrain prices.

Will the Minister confirm that the policy of the EEC on the dairy industry not only helps inefficient Continental producers but militates against the interests of the most efficient producers in this country and the consumers alike by keeping prices high? In this respect, will he agree that EEC policy is a major obstacle to our achieving the objectives for the dairy industry envisaged in "Food from Our own Resources"?

I accept the points made by my hon. Friend. If he looks at the White Paper he will see that the last page gives the relative position of efficiency and output figures for the dairy industry in the various Community member States. Britain has the largest herd size—higher than either Denmark or the Netherlands—but it is only third in output. Also, we are only 60 per cent. self-sufficient in milk products. This indicates the possibility and desirability of giving our own farmers more encouragment in dairy produce and discouraging the less efficient producers in other parts of the EEC.

In view of the scandalous rise in the price of butter, up to 72p a lb. by the end of the year, compared with 35p in New Zealand, does the Minister agree that this is due to the transitional steps that, unfortunately, must be taken? Is there any scope for renegotiating the two transitional steps? Otherwise the poorer sections of the community in this country will be in real trouble by the end of the year?

My hon. Friend made it clear that he had considered this aspect of the treaty to see whether the transitional steps were inevitable. He did not find any way of overcoming this difficulty. I emphasise the importance of taking steps to see that surpluses are prevented and that prices are kept to a minimum.



asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what steps he is taking to promote the sale of fresh mackerel to the public.

This is primarily a matter for the industry and the White Fish Authority, but my right hon. Friend and I are anxious to see better use made of this valuable resource.

Is the Minister aware that mackerel that has accumulated in Hull is being left out to dry in the mid-day drizzle—if it does not go rotten—to be ground into fish meal? If the mackerel industry is to go bankrupt the mackerel fishermen of Devon and Cornwall would rather that the fish were eaten by humans than used for fertiliser.

This raises the very important question of marketing mackerel. These resources are in greater supply than many others. I have visited Penzance and Newlyn and I am aware of the problems there. We have been doing our best to ensure that newer opportunities arise for marketing, no matter who catches the fish in the areas concerned. The Government have paid a grant of £12,000 towards a marketing study that cost £16,000. This matter is occupying our attention at present, and we fully recognise its importance?

Is the Minister aware that many Devon and Cornish fishermen resent the invasion of their waters by marauding Scottish fishermen?

I have no wish to be involved in any dispute between Scotland and Cornwall and Devon, except to say that Scottish fishermen are United Kingdom fishermen and they have a right to fish in British waters. As for trawlers from third countries, my right hon. Friend must be aware of the licensing provisions in the agreements with third countries to restrain the fishing activities of those countries.



I refer my hon. Friend to the reply that I gave to my hon. Friend the Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mr. Corbett) on 3rd February.

When my right hon. Friend again discusses economic policy with the TUC, will he ensure that it is not taken in by the posturing of the Opposition on matters such as increased food prices, where their policies would lead to even higher prices than those we have at present, on gas prices, where their entreaties for public expenditure cuts ignore the policies that the Chancellor has been putting forward, and on Shotton, where the works would have been closed had it not been for the reversal of policy by the Secretary of State for Industry?

My hon. Friend is quite right—and we all know that any introduction of the kind of policies favoured by the Opposition would lead to a higher cost of living throughout this country.

Doubtless the Prime Minister has discussed public expenditure proposals with the TUC. Will he admit that he is the first Prime Minister in the post-war period who has been too afraid to put his proposals for public expenditure cuts into a White Paper and lay them directly before the House on a direct motion for a direct vote?

I do not see what the right hon. Lady is complaining about. She has been pressing us for months to cut public expenditure, and we have now cut it. As regards a vote on a motion, I would expect to find every member of the Tory Party on my side in the Lobby.

But is it not the truth that if the Prime Minister put down a motion to approve the White Paper he would lose it and the whole of his economic policy as well, despite Government whipping?

If the right hon. Lady really means that, she is being very hypocritical in calling on me to reduce public expenditure. The reduction of public expenditure is what the White Paper is about, so perhaps she would reflect on the question why, when she has asked us to cut public expenditure and we have cut it, she would vote against the cuts.

Will the Prime Minister explain to the TUC how he expects to increase the authority of the Prices Commission in keeping down prices in the private sector if the Government override the Commission's decisions in the public sector, as was the case with gas prices? As he said outside that he was bringing this matter to the House, and as it would be doubtful that the House would approve it, what does he intend to do about it?

If I remember rightly, I was having an erudite discussion with my hon. Friends about higher institutions of learning in Birmingham when I was rudely interrupted with a question on gas prices. At that time I was under the impression that the matter would have to come before the House, but I find now that it does not.

I humbly apologise to the right hon. Gentleman and to everyone else for that grave and grievous error, which I trust I shall not repeat again. With regard to the general question, it is a matter that I hope we shall not have to repeat. As the right hon. Gentleman knows, the increase in gas prices was part of the undertakings that we gave to the IMF in relation to our borrowing requirements. There is no need for Opposition Members to say "Ah"; this was explained on 15th December and they knew it perfectly well.

It is contained in the document that is being discussed today. It would not be proper to go back on the cuts that were made then or on the increases made then. If we did we should have to find £100 million of cuts somewhere else. We shall not depart from the basic arithmetic of that agreement.

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that he is knowledgeable about the anxieties and incomprehension that have been expressed by some members of the General Council about the fact that the Government and the NEB are now saying that they cannot fill the vacancies among the directorships for which they have nominating rights because, it is suggested, there is no available managerial executive talent? Will the Prime Minister now say that he will try to encourage Ministers to resist the story that is put about that they have no knowledge of such talent, or no talent-spotting methods, by which they can fulfil these obligations? Will my right hon. Friend also look at the whole question of Government appointments?

I shall be glad to discuss this matter with my hon. Friend in more detail, but it is certainly the case that on occasions it is difficult to find people of the requisite talent to fill particular posts which are necessary to be filled. [An HON. MEMBER: "Look behind you."] I do not have to look behind me. I just have to look across the Floor of the House. This is a real problem in British industry and it is one to which we must devote a great deal of attention. I am bound to say that when I am looking for recruits I shall not look at the bunch of faded daffodils on the Opposition Benches.