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Farmers' Unions

Volume 934: debated on Thursday 30 June 1977

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asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food when he will next meet the presidents of the farmers' unions.

I have no specific plans for a meeting with the presidents, but my Department keeps in close touch with the industry on matters of interest.

In view of the fact that the French Government, through their controlling organisations, have once more closed their markets to our export of sheepmeat—causing price difficulties for our producers and even leading, perhaps, to the export of more live animals to France—will the Secretary of State be able to report to the presidents when he next meets them any action that is taken towards securing an interim sheepmeat régime in the CAP?

That is a very difficult question. This is a personal view, and I may be proved wrong, but I doubt whether there are any proposals for an interim régime capable of being accepted by all nine members of the Council. What I suspect will happen is that a little later in the autumn we shall get proposals for a definitive régime.

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the next time he meets the farmers' unions leaders it is important that he discusses ways of implementing the fulfilment of the policy "Food from Our Own Resources" so that farmers can plan on a longer-term basis? Does he further agree that over the last two or three years there has been considerable uncertainty in farming circles as to how exactly they can plan for the future?

There is a great deal of truth in what the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Hooson) says. Of course, despite what was said a moment ago, the Labour Government are not totally responsible for the drought two years in succession, and that had some effect on "Food from Our Own Resources". What I intend to do is to get an urgent up-dating of that White Paper. I should like to keep it continually under review so that whether one goes for a 2·5 per cent. projection or whatever one will always have some degree of certainty for farmers.

When my right hon. Friend next meets the presidents of the farmers' unions will he point out that if the Government accept their advice to phase out the MCAs the level of imported wheat would rise from about £50 a ton to about £80 a ton? That would thus give a price to the wholesalers of this country of roughly two or three times the world price, which would be a cost to the British consumer and a gain to the farmer, and the farmer alone.

Of course, my hon. Friend is absolutely right. I said a moment ago in answer to the hon. Member for Holland with Boston (Mr. Body) that the high cereal prices was the villain of this piece. The fact is that this is what makes life difficult in some sections of the livestock industry and, indeed, for consumers as well.

We all welcome the right hon. Gentleman's statement that "Food from our own resources" is going to be brought up to date. Will the Secretary of State take the opportunity to make absolutely clear in its successor how the laudable aims which are expressed are to be brought about?

Certainly. "Food from our own resources" was certainly based upon one proposition that is incontrovertible—it was written on the basis either of our continuing in the Common Market or of our leaving the Common Market. Some of the White Paper will have to have the position totally updated and will include a number of plans. Incidentally, I would also want it to deal more fully with horticulture than its predecessor did.