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Country Landowners' Association

Volume 958: debated on Thursday 16 November 1978

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asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what plans he has to meet the president of the Country Landowners' Association.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food
(Mr. Gavin Strang)

My right hon. Friend the Minister hopes to meet the president of the Country Landowners' Association on 5th December.

When the Minister meets Mr. Paul, will he tell him whether he will be advising his friends in the Labour Party to press ahead with their proposals for the nationalisation of agricultural land on the ground of farming efficiency? If so, will he tell the House why he believes that nationalisation of farm land will make agriculture more efficient?

My right hon. Friend has already pointed out that about 3 million acres of farmland are already publicly owned. But the hon. Gentleman must understand that there has been no change in the Government's policy in relation to the public ownership of agricultural land.

Was it not clear from the Labour Party conference that the hon. Gentleman himself is extremely sympathetic towards the nationalisation of agricultural land?

What was clear from the speech I made at the Labour Party conference was that I am very aware of the deep concern throughout the agricultural community in this country about the growing acquisition of agricultural land by financial institutions and, furthermore, about the displacement of family farmers by direct farming by these financial institutions.

Does my hon. Friend agree that the Government ought to be pursuing a policy to swell the ranks of the Country Landowners' Association so that every person in this land would qualify for membership?

My hon. Friend has a point to the extent that it is the Government's policy to encourage owner occupation and to encourage people to buy a house with a garden. But that is very different from the serious problem which exists in relation to agriculture and the acquisition of land by these big institutions.

Will the hon. Gentleman have a word with the president of the CLA about sugar beet? Is the hon. Gentleman aware that in my constituency thousands of tons of one of the best sugar beet crops we have ever had are now lying around rotting, unable to be processed, because of industrial action at the largest sugar beet factory in this country—namely, that at Bury St. Edmunds? Will he discuss this situation as a matter of urgency and tell the farmers what he intends to do to compensate them for the losses which they have had no part in creating?

I agree with the hon. Gentleman that it is a matter for concern that beet should be lost in this way, but he will be the first to acknowledge that these negotiations must take place between the British Sugar Corporation and the unions representing the men involved.

Is the Minister aware that the price of agricultural land has risen by 420 per cent. during the past eight years. Will he inquire of the CLA what effect this has had on the cost of producing food in Britain?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising that point. I believe most strongly that this sharp escalation in the price of agricultural land, while it may be to the benefit of land speculators and some landowners, is of no benefit whatever to the working farmer.

When this meeting with the president of the Country Landowners' Association takes place, will the Government be very careful to answer the crucial question as to whether they agree with the view, expressed at the Labour Party conference, that agriculture industry would be more efficient if the land was nationalised?

I think that the hon. Gentleman is referring to the resolution which was passed at the Labour Party conference and which has already aroused comment this afternoon. The position is that Government policy has not changed in relation to the public ownership of land or the rating of agricultural land.