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National Farmers Union

Volume 930: debated on Thursday 21 April 1977

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7.

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what recent consultations he has had with the National Farmers Union.

Is the Minister aware that with each of these consultations the confidence of British farmers in him appears to grow steadily less, especially when they compare his attempted assurances with the kind of speech he made in Grimsby earlier this week? Is it not time that both he and his hon. Friend stated the truth—that British consumers have an overriding interest in a healthy and confident British farming industry—and acted accordingly?

That was a very vague and wide supplementary question. My speech in Grimsby was almost entirely devoted to an attack upon the Conservative Party, and, as we all know, farmers are Labour voters to a man. As for retaining their confidence, that will, I hope and trust, be retained by a policy which is fair to them, to the consumer and to the housewife who buys their food products. If the policy is fair to them, we shall not only have the right quantity of food produced at the right price but the right consumption of that food. That is exactly what I am after.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the firm stand he is taking against higher food prices is receiving the support of everyone in the country except the Tory Front Bench? Is he also aware that he will receive even further support if he resists any further increases in food prices?

I certainly believe that there is very strong feeling in the country about food prices, but I would not say that the whole Tory Front Bench—what there is of it present at the moment—is definitely against lower or reasonable food prices. Here and there there may be someone, not present today, who may actually be in favour of reasonable food prices.

Did the Council of the National Farmers Union yesterday explain to the Minister that it is worried that his posturings in Brussels are souring the British position and will make it much more difficult to deal with important issues such as fisheries and the future of the marketing boards? Did he explain to the farmers just how, as he goes about the country saying that he still subscribes to the aims of the White Paper "Food from Our Own Resources", he intends to fulfil those targets?

The answer to the second question is "Yes, I did" As to the first, farmers are kind, courteous, hospitable people and would not have dreamed of discussing fisheries with me. As for the point about souring our relations, I can only say that I am after something reasonable for our own farmers and producers and for the British housewife. I am interested to note that my efforts are not going totally unrewarded in Europe. Mr. Gundelach said yesterday that he had made an offer to us which was without precedent in the history of the Community and which took into account the special problems of the United Kingdom consumer. Clearly, therefore, I have an ally now.