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Beef Production

Volume 934: debated on Thursday 30 June 1977

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asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he is satisfied with the returns so far achieved this year and with the prospects within the beef producing sector of the industry.


asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he is satisfied with the current viability of beef producers.

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

Yes, Sir.

Is the Minister aware that there is considerable fear within the industry that the returns, come winter and spring, will be too low, due to an inadequate target price? Bearing in mind the replies of his right hon. Friend, will the Minister consider the suggestion made earlier by my hon. Friend the Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Ridley), and agree that a devaluation of the green pound could correct the position? This could be beneficial in the beef sector and could also benefit the pig sector.

I think that the hon. Gentleman knows our policy with regard to devaluation of the green pound, but apart from that I draw his attention to the fact that the returns this year are, on average, 14 per cent. higher than a year ago. That was the position at mid-June. As to the future, the level of prices in March next will be £32 per live hundredweight. There is every reason, therefore, for confidence.

Is it not the case that we appear to be approaching the low point or the world beef production cycle? If that is so, will the Minister consider taking some initiative in the autumn? Above all, will he continue to ensure that Britain presses for the acceptance of these islands as the principal grassland producers of Western Europe?

I think that my hon. Friend's last point is an important one, because the future of the beef industry depends not only on the Government's policy but on the industry itself, with a better use of grassland, a better use of resources, better investment, and other aids towards productivity.

Has the Minister read the recent report from the little NEDC that production is dropping in every sector? Has the Minister observed that over the last two years of Socialist administration the consumer has not been getting the total amount of food from British farms that is required? Will he look at this matter again and see that the report is studied very carefully by his Department, and that incentives are given to rectify this position?

It was the hon. Gentleman's party who got rid of the fatstock guarantee. It was my right hon. Friend who, two years ago, put a floor in the market with the beef premium scheme, with intervention only as a fall-back. If the Opposition Front Bench had had its way it would have accepted the Commission's proposals, which would have meant that there would be a review of the premium scheme by July. Now we have a guarantee that this will continue at least until the end of the 1977–78 period. This should give confidence to the producers.