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National Farmers' Union

Volume 958: debated on Thursday 16 November 1978

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asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food when he will next meet the president of the National Farmers' Union of England and Wales.


asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food when he plans next to meet representatives of the National Farmers' Union.

I frequently meet representatives of the National Farmers' Union, but at present I have no plans for a meeting.

When the Minister next meets the president of the National Farmers' Union, will he raise the important question of increasing the level of United Kingdom food production, as that is one vital way of reducing Britain's financial exposure to the EEC? We must import less.

Does not the right hon. Gentleman agree that it is lamentable that three years after the publication of the document "Food from Our Own Resources" his Government have failed, with the exception of climatic accident, to increase the level of food production in the United Kingdom?

I absolutely agree with the hon. Gentleman that an increase in production of food in these islands is essential. I like his little exception—t drought for 500 years following the worst drought for about 100 years. I therefore agree that those two years made somewhat of a difference in food production. But I am satisfied at present that agricultural production is going as it should be going, and I think that the figures will bear me out when they are published.

When the Minister does meet the members of the National Farmers' Union, will he tell them whether the Government wholeheartedly accept the motion passed at the Labour Party conference calling for the nationalisation of land? Will he further assure them that owner-occupiers were not exempt from that motion, as was popularly believed?

I am, of course, not responsible for every motion passed by the farmworkers' union. As to the public ownership of land, I am encouraged by the thought that 3 million acres of agricultural land are already publicly owned and have been for some time.

The argument is about the exact proportion in which agricultural land should be publicly owned, privately owned or co-operatively owned. What we all have to do is to see that new farmers can come into this very important industry and that they are assisted so to do. That may be done by any of those three ways. I await the report of the Northfield committee, which I think may give a good deal of information on this subject.

Will my right hon. Friend seek an early meeting with the President of the National Farmers' Union, so that he can announce his conclusions on the inter-departmental review on the export of live animals for slaughter? Is he aware that it is now eight months since the document was published and that the whole industry, whatever side of the argument it happens to be on, would welcome a conclusion? Will he also note that the majority of Members would applaud him if he announced an end to this vile trade?

I have already had the advantage of discussions with the president of the National Farmers' Union on this subject. Indeed, we have discussed it at various times in this House. I take the view that the basic question still to be resolved is what is to happen as regards the EEC. I have made that point in the House. One cannot consider the question of the transport of live animals in the United Kingdom alone. We have to do it in an EEC context. But that does not mean that my resolve on that matter is any the less, and it does not mean that I intend to delay much longer over it.

When the Minister does meet the president of the National Farmers' Union, will he discuss with him the question of marginal land, where for a small investment by the Government a great deal more production could be obtained?

I am very conscious of the problem. The hon. Gentleman will probably understand that as with the presidents of all the farmers' unions—and here I include the Farmers' Union of Wales—we are in a difficulty of definition. What we do not want is to lose, by widening the definition so that we receive assistance for marginal land, some of the other advantages that hill farming receives. But I agree with the hon. Gentleman that the problem needs urgent study, and that is exactly what is going on at the moment.

Will my right hon. Friend the Minister say when he intends to make his announcement about the continued supply of farm-bottled or green-top milk, which is a matter of concern to many farmers in my constituency, elsewhere in West Yorkshire and other parts of the country?

I hope to make an announcement on that matter in the near future, and I shall make it to this House when the time comes.

First, is the right hon. Gentleman aware how sorry we all were about the accident he sustained recently? I hope that he is better, having been rather badly hurt. I do not want to joke about the matter, but it goes to prove what a dangerous place Whitehall can be. I hope that he will be more careful in the future.

When the right hon. Gentleman does meet the president of the National Farmers' Union, will he be able to assure him about when the successor to "Food from Our Own Resources" is likely to make an appearance? It has been long delayed, and rumours are to be heard on every side now that the successor document will be a slender one.

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his kind remarks, and I promise him that I shall never cross the road in Brussels. The successor to "Food from Our Own Resources"—I nearly said "Son of Food from Our Own Resources", but that might cause some comment—will certainly not be a slim volume. I hope that it is an extremely important and full document. It is virtually finished, but, as the right hon. Gentleman knows, it was decided at the last Heads of Government meeting that the Commission should be asked for a report on the CAP and I felt it prudent to hold up the successor to "Food from Our Own Resources" until I had seen what the Commission had to say. But it will not, I hope, be very long.