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Agricultural 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 that current agricultural produce polices are adequate to cover increased costs.

The price decisions taken this year will provide a substantial improvement in the level of support for our farmers. Actual returns will, of course, depend on a variety of factors, including the weather.

Is the Minister satisfied that farming profits are such as to allow sufficient investment to meet the objective of the Government's own White Paper, "Food from our own resources", namely, a 2ยท5 per cent. increase in food production and a saving of about half a billion pounds in food import costs? Secondly, what is his Department's reaction to Mr. Gunderlach's criticism of the White Paper policy?

My right hon. Friend has made it clear that he rejects any criticism from Commissioner Gunderlach in relation to the White Paper. The hon. Gentleman will be aware of the fairly stringent remarks that my right hon. Friend has expressed on that matter.

We cannot predetermine the level of profitability. It is certainly true that the drought last year had an adverse effect overall on the level of farm profits. What we can do is to provide adequate farm support prices, and the very significant increases that we have been able to achieve there augur well for the future.

Does my hon. Friend agree that as well as the farmers, who are beginning to complain about the common agricultural policy, the consumers in this country have every right to complain about this policy? Does he further agree that whatever our attitude to the Common Market we should try to scrap the common agricultural policy, which is working to the disadvantage of housewives in this country as well as that of the farming community?

I think that we should try to achieve fundamental changes in the common agricultural policy. It is because of the great importance that we attach to the need to hold down food prices that we fought so hard to minimise the increase in common prices at this year's agricultural price fixing. In consequence of that, the overall effect of the common agricultural policy on food prices this year will be less than 3 per cent.

As long as industry can recover its cost increases and agriculture is prevented from doing so, will the Minister explain how he sees the gap between average earnings in industry and average earnings in agriculture being reduced?

I do not think that it can be reasonably argued that anyone is preventing the agriculture industry from making higher profits. It will continue to make progress by investment and by increasing productivity.

As to earnings, if the hon. Gentleman is referring to farm workers' earnings there is a Question on that subject later on the Order Paper, but I can assure him that we still take the view that farm workers' earnings are deplorably low in relation to those of other sectors of the community.